AYER -- The Ayer and Shirley community gathered Thursday to break ground on a great success, hard fought and won.
Speakers at Ayer-Shirley Regional High School spoke to the hard work, dedication and time it took to agree on the need for the vast building renovations, their design and the means of funding it.
Students will remain in the old middle-school wing while construction on the other side of the school progresses. The old high-school wing is being remodeled from the foundation up. Once that work is complete, students will be moved into that wing while the other is knocked down.
Renovations and construction will not be finished until fall 2015. Among new portions of the building will be the academic wing, classrooms and labs. The auditorium is also getting a makeover.
The entire project costs $56 million, with about 70 percent reimbursed by the Massachusetts School Building Authority.
Those who dedicated their time and energy to the project spoke in the high-school's auditorium. Speakers included Chairman of the School Committee Pat Kelly, Superintendent of Schools Carl Mock, Chairman of the Building Committee Murray Clark, Ayer Board of Selectmen Chairman Pauline Conley, Vice Chairman of the Shirley Board of Selectmen Bob Prescott, ASRHS history teacher Peter Gubellini, state Reps. Sheila Harrington and Jen Benson, state Sen. Jamie Eldridge and Executive Director of the Massachusetts School Building Authority Jack McCarthy.
Kelly said the idea for the renovations began six years ago.
"Great things happen here every day," Kelly said. "This is a great day for the region, our school committee, students and our faculty."
During a slide show of the building plans, students voiced "oohs and aahs" as a slides played.
"You will experience noise, and dirt, and shuffling around for the next two years, but it will all be worth it," Mock told students.
Prescott welcomed the eighth-graders, as they will be the first to use the academic wing, but apologized to seniors who will not be able to take advantage of it despite their hard work preparing for the project.
"This is an important milestone for the community because a nice school is what draws people to a town," Conley said. "It's where our children learn their most valuable lessons."
Harrington said, "Yes, it's literal, we will actually be breaking into the ground today, but you will continue to break new ground here," she said as she listed the ways students break ground in school including socially, mentally and educationally.
Project planning was an extensive affair, calling for teamwork, working with many people with differing opinions.
"Anything that is great has teamwork behind it," Benson said. "If something's worth doing, it's worth pulling together to make it happen."
"The under pinning of a democracy is a strong public education," Eldridge said. "Every child should get a great education to become an active citizen both during school and afterwards. That doesn't happen without the support of state government, local government and through contributions to every community to make sure every school system is as good as it should be."
Everyone involved with the project, he stressed, worked hard to make it a reality.
McCarthy spoke last, heaping more praise on all those behind the "new" high school.
"They intelligently thought about how to maximize the funds from the state," he said, which no doubt helped clear the hurdle of cost.
"To the students, we are here today because your parents and neighbors went to the polls to pay more taxes (for this project to become a reality) because they believed in you and this school," McCarthy said.
After the speeches, everyone gathered outside for the groundbreaking. Those who had earned the privilege of raising a shovel, posed for a photograph.
The image will find its way into the historical record, marking a very important day in the life of Ayer and Shirley, and their shared vision of a regional, cutting-edge high school.
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