SHIRLEY -- If the $7.4 million proposed sports complex project the School Committee's Athletic Fields SubCommitee presented in Ayer and Shirley, respectively, last week, passes muster in both towns, the regiona' school district would assess $2.8 million of the total cost to Shirley, according to committee member Jonathan Deforge, who headed up the second presentation.

If, that is, both towns approve the project, first at separate Town Meetings and then at the ballot box. The balance of the price tag would be assessed to Ayer, per the 60/40 percentage split spelled out in the Regionalization Agreement.

Deforge is one of Shirley's three representatives on the six-member ASRSD School Committee, which voted 5 to 1 in favor of the project as presented. He rolled out an overview of Shirley's annual debt schedule if the sports complex gets the green light, showing how existing debt service payments impact the big picture as various loans for big-ticket projects are paid off in a given year, such as town sewer and Shirley's share of the middle school and high school projects, slated for payoff in 2027 and 2035.

The numbers were vetted by the Town Accountant and Bond Counsel, Deforge said.

The district would borrow the money via a 15-year Debt Exclusion plan, he said, temporarily raising tax rates in Ayer and Shirley for the loan period, under provisions of Proposition 2 1/2.

That figures out to be about $112 added to annual residential tax bills, Deforge said, based on the median price/assessed value of a home in Shirley, which is $290,000 for the current fiscal year.


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Shirley Selectman Debra Flagg said she'd seen both presentations and that the committee did a "good job" summing up facts and figures, as well as making a strong argument for the complex, based on safety, possible new revenue from gate and concession sales and other benefits to the school, the community and student athletes (About half the high school's 400-plus student population participates in one or more sports, proponents said, as well as some middle school students.)

Still, given Shirley's historic distaste for tax overrides, the proposal could fail and Flagg wondered if there's a contingency plan, just in case.

Absent a go-ahead for the entire track and field package, the next go-to would be a track only fix, said committee member Dan Gleason of Ayer, which is a must-do since the track is in such rough shape. It would cost about $300,000 and would still be six lanes, versus the eight envisioned for the new complex.

From the audience, his wife, Brenda Gleason had her say on the matter. "Injuries aside, we know the fields are 54 years old...it's our responsibility to support our schools and our students," she said.

Shirley resident Bill Manchester sided with Gleason's point of view. Improving the high school's outdoor sports facilities might help keep families from defecting to other school systems if their reason for doing so is better sports options, he said.