TOWNSEND -- Poor acoustics, a lack of storage space and extreme temperature fluctuations are some of the challenges facing the North Middlesex Regional High School's music and arts program.
Representatives from the North Middlesex Building Committee, which just completed the schematic-design phase for an $89 million new high school, led a public forum and tour of the existing high school Wednesday for a small group of residents to showcase the struggles the building poses for students in the fine arts.
The existing auditorium is not handicapped-accessible, does not have a professional lighting system and does not block noise from the lobby, building-committee representatives said on the tour.
The new auditorium would feature more seating, new lighting and audio systems and better acoustics. It would also become handicapped accessible to bring the building up to code.
"It'll be a modern set-up," said committee member Heidi Messing.
Lorraine Finnegan of design firm Symmes, Maini & McKee Associates, said the band, chorus, drama and technology students all utilize the auditorium during the school day, making it just as important as a more typical classroom space.
"An auditorium is not just a performance space, it's a classroom," Finnegan said.
Band Director Jason Bielik said the school's band and chorus classrooms are also less-than-ideal work spaces for students.
A lack of private practice space in the band room, which was originally built to be a cafeteria, makes it difficult for students to rehearse outside of the entire group, Bielik said.
"The kids want to come rehearse together, they want to practice. There's simply nowhere to go, so they're just all in here together trying to play in what's really a cacophonous area," Bielik said.
The band room also does not have any storage space, leaving students to store their instruments stacked against a wall.
Member David Amari said the new facility would incorporate dedicated storage space.
"We can secure all this very expensive equipment, keep it safe, make it last," Amari said.
The art rooms, Bielik said, allow little space to display students' work and forced students to work under harsh lighting.
"I don't think arts are meant to be done under fluorescent lights," Bielik said.
Amari said the new building would have a better atmosphere for students.
"Displaying the artwork for the students and having nice lighting is important for the students. It's kind of an essential thing to ensuring they have the confidence to compete," Amari said.
Messing said the new building would be organized into clusters for different subject areas and will feature common spaces designed for large-group learning.
"The whole building is accessible, well-laid out, well-thought out, secure," Messing said.
It would also include natural lighting and an outdoor classroom, Amari said.
"It is such a grind to just push through all the academics, and to make it fun and creative and give kids the opportunity to change things up, bring in some natural light and really enjoy learning will help them get through to higher learning," Amari said.
Member Oscar Hills praised the work students and staff have done with the outdated facilities, but said the new facility would bring much needed changes.
"Our district I feel had done very well with the limited resources and our staff deserves a lot of credit," Hills said.
"This is a project for all. It's really going to help all avenues I believe," he added.
Pepperell resident Susan Whittemore, who has three children who attend Varnum Brook Elementary School, encouraged others in the community to attend future tours and information sessions on the project.
"Seeing the building and then seeing the schematic design, it's worth the hour or two to come down and see it because it's night and day," Whittemore said.
The new construction project will go before voters of Ashby, Pepperell and Townsend in a series of Special Town Meetings the week of March 10. It must pass in all three Special Town Meetings, as well as in ballot questions in each town.
About $48 million of the project costs will be paid for by the towns, with the rest set to come from the Massachusetts School Building Authority.
If the project passes, construction would start in spring 2015 and the new building would be completed in fall 2017. Demolition of the existing school would be finished by fall 2018.
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