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Building schedule escalates to match feasibility study timeline

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AYER/SHIRLEY — The design team for the school building project has set an ambitious year-long agenda that starts now and ends with voting in Ayer and Shirley in 2012.

With the effort officially launched, the Building Committee is gearing up for the duration and will be meeting every week from now until early June. Meetings will be on Thursday night and will alternate between the Ayer-Shirley Middle School in Shirley and Page Hilltop Elementary School in Ayer.

When the committee discussed the building project feasibility study budget and timeline at a recent meeting in Shirley, one member wondered how the final plan would be presented to voters in light of separate plans to renovate the middle School. The projects are inter-dependent and should be considered together rather than separately, in his view.

But Chairman Scott Simmons and Owner’s Project Manager Trip Elmore said that’s not on the agenda right now.

The big picture plan calls for closing Shirley’s aging Lura A. White Elementary School and retro-fitting the newer middle school as an elementary school for pre-Kindergarten through sixth grade.

Once the high school/middle school renovation is complete, grades seven and eight currently housed in the Shirley school would move to the Ayer building.

That’s still the model on the drawing board, said Superintendent Carl Mock, and he promised “full disclosure” on that point when the building project is presented to voters. But there are plans to get cost estimates yet for the middle to elementary school re-do, since it’s not part of the current project.

Consensus around the table was that while costs to renovate the middle school building will be addressed at some point in the process, that time is not now.

Nor will taxpayers in the two communities be saddled with a $40 million bill for the building project, per some rumors making the rounds.

“It is important for the committee to be cost-conscious,” Simmons said. And it will be.

Besides, the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) will pick up the lion’s share of the tab. Reimbursement should be about 68 percent, Mock said, maybe more with points. “That’s huge.”

MSBA has agreed to reimburse the school district for more than half of covered expenses during the feasibility study stage, about 57 percent. The higher percentage kicks in after project plans are approved and work begins.

Given its substantial financial stake, MSBA has had a say in the process from the start, but the last word will come from Ayer and Shirley voters. Each town must approve the building project and agree to pay respective shares of the cost.

Feasibility Study

A majority of Ayer and Shirley voters in dual town elections last year approved $750,000 for the feasibility study, with the total count of both polling places taken together.

According to ASRSD Finance Director Evan Katz, only about half that amount has been borrowed to date, most of it reimbursable. Under budget so far, expenditures and estimates are on target, he said, with a relatively small credit surplus for contingencies.

Timeline

Beginning with the recent klick-off meeting of the Building Committee, the preliminary project – or feasibility stage – of the school building project schedule hinges on MSBA board meetings.

Programming studies, interviews and analysis with an eye to creating a “space template,” will continue throughout January. The educational program will be finalized by early February for presentation to the district and the community.

During that period, the project team’s work – the feasibility study – will also include a thorough review of the existing high school building; its size, shape and configuration and the condition and current use of spaces inside and out.

Itemized in a three-page handout, the ambitious to-do list includes reviewing handicapped access and current building codes, mechanical systems, food service equipment and operation, hazardous materials and technology.

Site assessment will include a topography survey, review of utilities, traffic, vehicular and pedestrian access, soil tests and scanning site areas for potential building additions.

Each segment wraps with a documented report or a community presentation, or both.

From February through April, the team will work out conceptual options for the building design, with site visits to selected schools, a preliminary “green charette.” A big part of the job at this point will be to assess each option in terms of project goals.

With a “preferred option” lined up, the timeline calls for a community presentation in mid-April, followed by a final report, another district and community presentation and submission to MSBA.

On May 2, the MSBA facilities sub-committee will review the plan and make a recommendation to the MSBA board, which meets June 6 and is expected to vote on it then.

The project then moves to the schematic design phase, with an anticipated three-month timeframe from June 7 to Sept. 27, 2012.

Once the schematic design plan is complete, including project timeline and cost estimates, the plan will be submitted to the MSBA Facilities Sub-Committee for its Oct. 17 meeting. The final MSBA sign-off – anticipated for its Nov. 14 board meeting – will be based on that recommendation.

But voters in Ayer and Shirley get the final say. Leading up to votes in the two towns, the team’s stated aim is to provide public information and outreach in various forms, including flyers, handouts, exhibits, presentations and meetings with community groups.

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