TOWNSEND -- The Finance Committee voted 5-0 Thursday to recommend all three articles related to construction of a new high school that will go before voters at next Tuesday's Special Town Meeting.
The first article would authorize the building of a new North Middlesex Regional High School for $89 million. The second and third would approve alternatives to the project, including a maintenance building and upgrades to the school's athletic fields. The alternates would only go forward if all of the district's member towns vote yes and savings in the total project budget are found during the bid process.
Voters in Pepperell and Ashby will also address the same questions next week in Special Town Meetings on March 10 and 15, respectively.
If the project is rejected at any of the Special Town Meetings or any of the three town elections in April, the project would not go forward.
School Committee Chairwoman Susan Robbins said that this would mean possibly losing a $40 million grant that has been offered by the Massachusetts School Building Authority for the project.
The district would need to form a new building committee, conduct a new feasibility study and make a new presentation to the Massachusetts School Building Authority in order to pursue the grant again, but there is no guarantee that the $40 million would be offered again.
"The concern is we kind of lose our place in line," Robbins said.
Town Administrator Andrew Sheehan said that the project as proposed now would most likely cost voters less than a renovation.
"A renovation, depending on how it was done, may or may not be eligible for MSBA reimbursement. You could easily do a $40 million to $50 million renovation with no reimbursement and you'd still be on the hook for roughly the same amount. If we tried to build a new school or do a more significant renovation, it could easily be $60 to $70 million, but the MSBA may or may not be in the ball game," Sheehan said.
Member Cindy King said that the towns should vote yes now, while the MSBA grant is available.
"This is the cheapest deal we have right now," King said.
Townsend would be responsible for paying about $18.7 million, or 38 percent of the $48.8 million that would be covered by the three towns. The amount is based on Townsend's proportion of student population.
If passed, the project would increase annual tax bills in Townsend by $159 per $100,000 valuation. The increases would not go into effect until 2017.
Committee member Sam Grant asked about the longevity of the project before pledging his support.
"We don't know where we're going tomorrow and I'd like to know that when this community is putting in a facility, that it is there to be grown upon, and not there to be turned around and replaced when my daughter is my age," Grant said.
Robbins responded that the building was designed to last for the next 50 years.
"We've tried to focus on making things flexible," she said. "We tried to maximize all the square footage to reduce square footage and reduce the cost as much as possible."
The two project alternates that voters will decide on would only go forward if all three towns vote yes and there are savings when the project goes to bid. The entire project budget would not exceed $89,084,977.
If only enough savings are available to finance one of the two alternates, the high school Building Committee would choose which to fund based on feedback from voters.
The maintenance building, for $801,350, would provide storage and work space for the vehicles that are used to maintain not just the high school, but every school in the district.
The upgrades to the athletic fields, for $2.68 million, include widening the track to bring it up to competitive standards and preparing the football field for the possibility that it could be replaced with artificial turf in the future. The article itself would not fund the installation of a turf field.
Follow Chelsea Feinstein on Twitter and Tout @CEFeinstein.