By Mary E. Arata

BOSTON -- On Wednesday morning, the Massachusetts School Building Authority Board of Directors approved the $56,543,765 project scope and budget for the renovation of the Ayer Shirley Regional High School. The board also approved a $34,926,694 MSBA grant towards the project. The vote formalizes the 70.25 percent reimbursement rate by the state towards the high school project.

Ayer Shirley Regional School District Superintendent Carl Mock was accompanied to the meeting by Regional School Committee member Pat Kelly, High School Building Committee Chair Murray Clark, and SMMA Architecture Sr. Vice President Alex Pitkin and company COO Joel Seeley.

Mock addressed the board on behalf of the district, stating the project would help with "reversing the trend" of the "disturbing" number of students who've choiced-out of the district. Mock said the high school project is "most important not just for the district but for both communities."

The vote was pro forma as the the district had worked closely with MSBA staff on a regular basis leading up to the vote. Still, "the staff constantly reminds you - until the board approves it, it isn't approved," said Kelly after the vote was approved unanimously. "So we're trilled."

While the reimbursement rate and maximum project price tag have been set, Kelly said the actual cost will fluctuate according to short- and long-term borrowing terms.


"But we have a clear number. We have a ceiling that we will not go over," said Kelly.

As to naysayers who have concerns the project will shoot above the ceiling limit, Kelly said he hoped residents would have confidence in the school and building committees to keep a tight rein on spending. Beyond that, Kelly said "the MSBA is a watchdog to make sure we stay on scope" since the state is "paying 7 of every 10 cents" on the project.

Kelly said the local "yes" campaign continues. Shirley Town Meeting voted on Sept. 24 to approve a change to the regional school agreement to allow the towns to share on Shirley's pre-existing middle school debt. Ayer Town Meeting will consider the same measure on Oct. 22.

For the project to proceed, "yes" votes are being sought on each of two ballots for Ayer and Shirley voters on Saturday, Nov. 17. The polls will be open in each town from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

One ballot asks voters to approve the high school project. The other ballot asks voters to approve a debt exclusion to fund the project around property tax rate limiting Proposition two and a half.

Wednesday's MSBA vote was a critical hurdle to clear. "We know what the maximum number is, we know what the maximum grant would be and the reimbursement rate," said Kelly. "We can say with confidence what those numbers are."

"This community needs this project not only for the schools but for the health and economics of the two towns themselves," said Kelly. "And it will never be cheaper than it is right now - to borrow, to build ... or at this reimbursement rate. If affordability is a concern, this is the time to move."

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