AYER — There was something different about the annual building tour that interim Superintendent George Frost conducted for School Committee members last week.
Beyond the sense of expectancy that comes with a new school year, there is anticipation for the new Ayer-Shirley Regional School District, which becomes operational July 1, 2011. Changes on the horizon include a plan to renovate the existing middle-high school building and add a science wing.
The countdown began in March, when, after two years of study, planning and promotion, voters in the two towns said yes to regionalization, followed by the official blessing of the state Education Department.
This year, the two systems merged middle schools — grades 6 through 8 — in Shirley. And for the first time in more than 15 years, Shirley ninth-graders headed for public high school (other than Nashoba Tech or another district via School Choice) were directed to Ayer, minus the option (with some exceptions) to attend Lunenburg High.
Next year, the Ayer-Shirley merger will be complete. When the building project is done, the merged middle school is slated to move back to Ayer.
During the tour, Frost pointed out changes from a summer’s worth of sprucing-up.
For example: New paint jobs, including bright yellow and blue markings on exterior steps and at entrances, for visually-impaired students. The wood floor in the gym gleamed after being sanded down and triple-coated. In one of the many hallways, the polished tile floor showed a subtle crack. Frost explained its origin. Water leaked in underneath over time, causing a sudden eruption when glue gave way, lifting tiles like a fissure at a fault line. The facilities manager fixed the damage.
Frost noted other repairs and replacements credited to the custodial crew, including pipes, plumbing and light fixtures and ceilings. Similar small projects were completed across the parking lot at Page-Hilltop Elementary School, but several areas there still need attention, he said, such as the wall of windows near the library. Perpetually fogged, the window seals have failed. The remedy is replacement. Fixing up Page-Hilltop will be the second request he’ll file with the Massachusetts School Building Authority, Frost said.
Other short-term fixes included removing “extensive graffiti” from the high-school roof. And stair lifts are now fully functional and certified, he said.
Thanks to a facilities manager on the lookout for bargains and the generosity of a corporate neighbor — Bristol-Myers Squibb — with surplus equipment to give away, several automatic door closers in the middle-high school building were replaced.
Another arm of the security system was paid for with funds from a previously approved article on a past Town Meeting warrant: camera access at the high-school main entrance, where last year a greeter on duty during school hours signed in visitors. The greeter won’t be there this year, but the door will be locked after buses roll, with a buzzer-entry and camera system hooked to the main office. The security funds will also pay for replacing some entry doors at both school buildings, Frost said.
The New England Association of Schools and Colleges in its 10-year accreditation evaluation last year cited needed improvements to the middle-high school building, as well as educational upgrades, to meet criteria.
Asked if some repairs and other work inside and outside the building and on the grounds could be rolled into the building project, Frost said the answer is yes and no. Under current procedures, MSBA maps out work to be done under state auspices, he said, and most landscaping isn’t within parameters unless directly linked to the building.
This year’s exterior improvements included a newly painted flagpole, with new cords, installed by an Ayer-based arborist who donated his time and equipment to do the job.
As for the pending renovation project — Phase One of the renovation/addition — MSBA is expected to reimburse the region for 67 percent of the cost, including a feasibility study that must come first. Frost said he hopes Ayer voters approve money for the study at the fall Town Meeting. A similar request is anticipated in Shirley.
Frost told the Ayer School Committee that he and Shirley Superintendent Malcolm Reid will meet soon with selectmen and town administrators in Ayer and Shirley to work out leasing deals for shared school facilities in each town.