SHIRLEY — The Ayer-Lunenburg-Shirley Regional School District Planning Board has agreed to move ahead with creating a three-town regional district.
Selectman David Swain, who’s a member of the group, gave a report on the issue during the April 7 Special Town Meeting.
The other two town representatives are Michael Swanton and Robert Prescott. Each town has a three-member committee serving on the three-town board.
At the June Annual Town Meeting (ATM) the committee expects to ask for $20,000 to fund Shirley’s portion of legal costs to draft a regionalization agreement, said Swain.
The next step would be to bring that agreement back to the respective towns for approval. It would then be forwarded to the Department of Education (DOE.) If it passes muster in all the required places, he said, a regional district could be operating by 2010.
Though attempts to regionalize have failed before, Swain said times have changed, and it’s time to try again.
The decision to stick together was prompted by recent meetings with the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA.) and state legislators, said Swain. The upshot is that MSBA is more likely to fund a school building project with at least 1,000 students, he said. Together, the three towns meet that benchmark.
Old school buildings in all three towns need extensive repairs and updates, he said. Costly makeovers could be down-sized or postponed in favor of building a new regional high school, he added.
The most favorable location is Shirley, which stands mid-way between the two other towns, he said. But even if the first regionalization movement in 18 years gels this time around, he said the project would be 10 years in the future.
Though state legislators are “pushing hard” for the nascent region’s interests, he said no commitment has been made yet.
Asked what would happen if no new high school is built, Swain said the “short answer” is that Ayer is prepared to spend $10 million to renovate its middle/high school building, which could accommodate Shirley’s high school students as well. In that case, Shirley parents would still have the option of sending children to Lunenburg High School, he said.
And if one of the three towns votes down a bid to regionalize next year, the other two could still merge, he said.
Asked about the “cultural values” piece in his report, Swain said the perception is that Ayer and Shirley kids, who mix on sports fields, for example, are already on a similar social page, while the Lunenburg link starts later. But the latter town has said the mix would work well, with no insurmountable hurdles anticipated.
Swain promised to keep the town posted as the process continues. The tri-town board meets the first and third Tuesday of each month in the Shirley Middle School library, he said. Meetings are open to the public.
The remaining four articles covered during the meeting passed. They requested voters:
* Authorize the moderator to declare a two-thirds vote without calling for a count. It passed unanimously.
* Pay a $27 water bill from last year. It passed unanimously.
* Amend a previous town meeting’s capital-improvement authorization to borrow money.
Specifically, it broadened the purpose of funds targeted for an engineering study of Lura A. White School’s heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) system. New wording redirects the charge to cover the repair or replacement of school infrastructure, including electrical, mechanical and other repairs, and remodeling.
The article passed by the required majority vote.
* Pay to balance the town budget. The controversial article passed by secret ballot.
The meeting, which convened at 7:15 p.m., adjourned shortly after 10 p.m., halfway through the warrant. Town moderator George Knittel continued the meeting to the next night.
At that time, all remaining articles passed.