By M.E. Jones
SHIRLEY — The Center School housed kindergarten classes for many years and in recent years, preschool classes as well.
But the building was mothballed to cut costs and has been vacant for two years.
Now, the Council on Aging would like to convert it into a senior center. The selectmen are backing the idea as a less costly alternative to new construction.
With $250,000 in MCI funds earmarked for a senior center, jurisdiction was the final obstacle.
But that issue seems to have been resolved. The School Committee, which controlled the town-owned building, voted at its Nov. 12 meeting to relinquish it to the town.
“The seniors have expressed an interest in using the building,” interim Superintendent Malcolm “Mac” Reid said.
The former school building has two rooms, handicapped-access, a new roof and a fairly new boiler, he said.
It’s also hooked to town sewer and has ample parking space in the historic town center.
COA members have said it would make an ideal senior center.
“The Board of Selectmen has asked if we will turn it over to the town,” Reid said. The administration, after reviewing its options, recommends doing so, he told the board.
The review included taking stock of school buildings and class structure, he explained. There are currently two buildings in use, the Lura A. White Elementary School and the Shirley Middle School. There are three class sections in grades one through five and four kindergartens, he said, with two middle school sections, grades six through eight.
If Shirley regionalizes its schools, which could happen within the next couple of years, the plan is to transfer those middle school grades to Ayer, Reid said, leaving grades pre-K through five in Shirley. The middle school would be retrofitted for the younger grades, closing LAW as a school.
It could still be used for administrative offices and/or another purpose, he said. The FLLAC special education collaborative has expressed interest in renting it, including classrooms, gym and cafeteria, he said.
If FLLAC or another renter moved into the “new” addition, the original brick building could be retained for district offices, board member Paul Wilson pointed out.
“That’s a possibility,” Reid agreed.
The administrative assessment also envisioned future scenarios in terms of building space.
With regionalization as a given, Reid sketched the set-up if choice students came back to the district and pre-kindergarten through fifth grade classes were upped to four sections. In that case, the district would need 24 classrooms.
The middle school has 27 classrooms, plus music rooms and other specialized spaces.
“It seems we’d be comfortable,” he said. “Only the central office would need to move.”
And there are several unused town-owned buildings that might be tapped for that, such as the old library and municipal building.
“We would have no need to use the Center School in the foreseeable future,” Reid concluded.
The School Committee concurred.