In a month's time, three representatives from the 15-member committee will be meeting with a 12-member board from the Massachusetts School Building Authority to begin the process of selecting a designer for the study. By Feb. 5, the committee hopes that the board will vote to appoint a designer.
This past spring, the MSBA approved a grant for the school district to conduct the study "to figure out the best way to deal with the infrastructure issues at the high school," said Chairman Rob Templeton. "It's a 50-plus-year-old building."
An engineering study of the building was conducted in 2006; according to the preliminary results, which are posted on the school's website, the list of issues includes but is not limited to materials containing asbestos, for the most part in the insulation in the boiler room.
"That's one of the complicating factors," said Templeton in an email. "When people ask why do we need a project of this scale, one of the reasons in the asbestos."
"Risks are minimal," he added. "It's not in areas that the kids can come in contact. If there were risks, it would have been removed."
Other issues include updating the science facilities, which are in need of, among other things, emergency showers.
"(The school has) high-school lab facilities that are older than when I went to high school," said Templeton.
The HVAC system is also in need of replacement, despite receiving basic maintenance throughout the years, according to the study overview.
"Even with adequate maintenance through normal operation, systems do gradually deteriorate due to scale, poor water conditions, and lack of preventive maintenance. Systems will gradually deteriorate to a point of exceeding their maximum serviceable life. This building is a typical example of one such project," reads the study. The preliminary findings and study overview are available on nmrsd.org.
The issues in question could affect the school's accreditation from the New England Association of Schools and Colleges if they are not addressed, said Templeton, but as the committee continues to move forward on the project, he said, feedback from NEASC has been favorable.
"They want to see progress, they want to see action, that you're doing things on each (issue)," he said. "As long as we continue to show progress, I feel pretty confident that accreditation won't be at risk."
The district first applied for the grant from the MSBA in 2006 following the engineering study, and has submitted an application in the form of a statement of interest each year since, said Templeton. It was approved for the first time this year and will cover 57 percent of the cost of the feasibility study. The district has also appropriated $940,000 for the study.
The feasibility study will look at the district as a whole, examining several options and the financial impact of each. These potential options could include updating the current building, constructing a new building and reexamining the functions of other buildings in the district. Right now, said Templeton, it's far too early in the process to determine what the best option will be.
"This isn't a new building project, this is a feasibility study to decide on the best course of action for the towns to achieve their educational goals," he said. "The best way to get through this may not be a new building."
Regardless of the course of action, the grant will be assisting with a percentage of the cost throughout. Once the Building Committee chooses a course of action, it must be approved by the MSBA. From there, the three towns will have the chance to vote on it. Because the project is still in its beginning stages, the fall 2013 Town Meeting would be the earliest that a vote would be necessary.
"We're really just starting the process," said Templeton.
Prior to a vote, the committee plans the hold public forums and information sessions. They also have regular meetings every other week.
"There will be a number of different opportunities for the public to come together and ask questions," said Templeton.
At the end of the project, the committee wants to ensure that it not only resolves accreditation issues but addresses the needs of its students, both present and in the long-term.
"We're not necessarily going to go in and say we need to fix a couple of things, we're going to come in and say this is the high school building for this community. With growth rates of how many kids will be high school-aged over the next 10, 20, 30 years, what's best way to address that?"
The committee is comprised of various community members throughout Townsend, Pepperell and Ashby, including Pepperell Selectman Stephen Themelis, Townsend Selectman Sue Lisio, Superintendent Joan Landers and several professionals with experience in project management.
"I feel like we're very well represented from a community standpoint," said Templeton.