PEPPPERELL — “This is not just a problem for families with school-aged children, it is a problem for every taxpayer in this town,” Joe Sergi said, referring to a request by the North Middlesex Regional School District to fund a feasibility study.
The study is the first step in building a new high school with funding from the Massachusetts Building Authority. An engineering site visit and schematics would cost about $900,000.
Because of cost to the towns, the NMRSD Committee recommended in the letter towns put a debt-exclusion on the Town Meeting ballots in Pepperell, Ashby and Townsend.
If a project is approved by the MSBA, the construction and feasibility study costs would be reimbursed about 57 percent form that group. Pepperell would be responsible for 50 percent of that, according to Town Administrator John Moak, which would be less than $200,000 if approved.
Sergi said that if the town does not move forward with the proposal, there could be more erosion to the community because the probationary status of the New England Association of Schools and Colleges accreditation will continue and drive more people away. If population declines, the declining enrollment at the high school will get worse than it already is.
Because Selectman Michael Green was not present, the board decided to take no action on approving the article and said they will decide at their next meeting March 19.
According to Selectmen Stephen Themelis, the NMRSD Committee discussed a line-by-line review of their level-services budget proposal at a meeting at 6 p.m. The board will bring the heads of each cost center to meetings and reviewing their expenses to see where they may be able to trim the budget, he said.
Another consideration on the horizon is the Peter Firtzpatrick school, a Pepperell facility under the control of the NMRSD, being used for about 70 special-education students and administrative offices.
In July of next year that building will come back under control of Pepperell and, according to Sergi, will include about $60,000 in annual upkeep costs.
Moak said return of building poses a problem because it is underutilized as it has a capacity for 600 students, it is too big to consolidate several of the town’s public-service departments there and that its systems will fail over time.
That building and the mill site pose zoning problems for potential commercial entities looking for space as well, Moak said, because of the mix of commercial and residential along the Main Street corridor.
A public hearing will be held Monday, March 26, to look at an article that would alter the zoning designation of the site.
Follow Luke Steere at twitter.com/LSNashobaPub.