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By Katina Caraganis

MediaNews

LUNENBURG — The Lunenburg School District may be looking at building a new high school after merger talks with the North Middlesex School District appear to be stalling, which one subcommittee member said would place the town “in a pickle.”

A committee of members from both districts, which last met July 25 to discuss the issue, has made little progress, and North Middlesex representatives say bringing a fourth town into their district may be a hard sell in Pepperell, Ashby and Townsend.

“They’re in a different position than we are. In order for them to do anything, they have to go back to their School Committee,” said Brendan Grady, a member of the Lunenburg Regional Planning Committee.

Rob Templeton, Sue Fitzgerald and Randee Rusch, the three North Middlesex members on the subcommittee, must report to the full School Committee to decide how discussions will progress.

Their next regularly scheduled meeting is Aug. 22.

If North Middlesex decides to end discussions, Grady said Lunenburg will have to look into building their own school.

“We would have to go forward with trying to get our own building and that’s well beyond the scope of anything I would be involved in. We would be in a pickle,” said Grady. “We would have to figure out how to go it alone. There are no other options here and nobody knows how this will go.”

An independent consultant was hired to look at whether regionalizing the two districts would be the most cost-effective, and Grady says the numbers didn’t appear to be in North Middlesex’s favor.

“When we got the numbers and we were able to look at them and discuss them, I can understand the feelings of the North Middlesex team,” he said. “They were definitely in a tough position. It didn’t look like it would be beneficial.”

Lunenburg School District Superintendent Loxi Jo Calmes said the district is looking into either building a new high school or a school for grades 7 through 12.

According to the MSBA’s calculations for Lunenburg, building a school for grades 7 to 12 would cost from $14 million to $24 million, while building a brand new school for grades 9 to 12 would cost from $32 million to $39 million.

If the two districts were to regionalize, Lunenburg’s share would be between $9 million to $10 million, while North Middlesex would contribute $19 million.

Calmes said the School Committee recently voted to form an advisory committee made up of two School Committee members, a Finance Committee member, a member of the Board of Selectmen and two parents to explore the possibility of reorganizing the district to a Pre-k to grade 2 school, a grade 3 to grade 6 school, and a grades 7-12 school.

She said they are charged with identifying the long-term educational opportunities and challenges around the proposed reconfiguration.

Lunenburg previously tried to regionalize with Shirley and Ayer but the effort fell through.

Milree Keeling, also a member of the Lunenburg Planning Committee, said putting in the time and negotiating a new region would be beneficial.

“I think it’s pretty clear, from Lunenburg’s perspective, that we are very challenged by the scale of our operation,” she said at the July 25 regionalization meeting. “Everyone wears more than one hat in our district and very few people go home on time ever. I think there are opportunities here. I don’t think that you’ve seen some of our good qualities that allow us to operate as efficiently as we do.”

Grady said nothing surprises him anymore, noting that if North Middlesex needs any support, he and the committee will provide it.

“When you’re going into this situation looking for an answer, and then find out that it isn’t the answer, I can understand where it would be a disappointment,” said Grady. “We’re not even going to discuss anything until North Middlesex has a chance to go back and talk to their team.”

Added Grady, “We don’t want to do anything right now that will put them in a awkward situation. We’ll take whatever answer they come back with and move forward.”

If the North Middlesex School Committee decides to move forward with regionalization discussions at their Aug. 22 meeting, Grady said the joint expansion subcommittee will meet again. If not, he said he expects North Middlesex will send a form letter with its decision.

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