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By Katina Caraganis

MediaNews

TOWNSEND — Voters in Townsend and Ashby will be asked to approve a Proposition 2 1/2 debt-exclusion that would pay for a feasibility study for a North Middlesex Regional High School building project.

Susan Robbins, chairwoman of the School Committee, said the question allows the towns to raise taxes beyond the limits of Proposition 2 1/2 to pay their individual cost of the study. A debt exclusion differs from an override in that taxes are not raised permanently.

The study will help determine the best course of action for the high school — a new school, a renovation or an addition.

Robbins, of Pepperell, said her town does not appear to have the same question on its annual election ballot. She was unsure whether Pepperell would fund its portion within its operating budget or put the question on a ballot later.

In January, the Massachusetts School Building Authority’s board of directors invited the district into an eligibility period for the school.

The feasibility study is expected to cost about $940,000, according to Superintendent of Schools Maureen Marshall, but the MSBA will pay for 55 percent of it. The three towns will share the remaining 45 percent.

Marshall said the MSBA’s portion will be $517,000, and the three towns will share the remaining $423,000. Twelve percent, or $50,760, will be paid by Ashby; 38 percent, or $160,740, will be paid by Townsend; and the remaining 50 percent, or $211,500, by Pepperell.

Robbins said deciding which way the feasibility study will be funded is a key step in the process of moving forward, especially because of the condition of the current building.

“Especially, according to NEASC (New England Association of Schools and Colleges), we’re on probation because of the condition of the building. Something needs to be done here,” Robbins said, while noting the district has worked through the majority of steps in the eligibility period to date.

Whether a renovation, addition or new school is the best option for the high school has not been decided yet, Robbins said.

“I don’t have the expertise to say which one would be best. MSBA will come in here and make a recommendation of a situation. Once I hear from them and the engineers, I will have a better idea of which is best,” she said.

Bob Plamondon, chairman of the Townsend Board of Selectmen, said although the question will be on the ballot, a decision has not been made yet by him and other members of the board on whether that is the route the town will take.

“I would prefer a debt exclusion over a normal override because once a debt exclusion is paid off, it’s off the books,” Plamondon said. “We haven’t really had the discussion yet about what we’ll do going forward. We’ll be having that conversation shortly. I think doing this now gives us the option of doing either or.”