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Playboard seeks BOS OK for paving project, gets no-go for now

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SHIRLEY — Representing the Playboard, a volunteer group that promotes and sponsors “playful” projects in town, Sue Heinz and Jim Quinty sought authorization from selectmen Monday night to go ahead with a paving project at the Lura A. White School.

Citing the elementary school’s uncertain future, however, the selectmen didn’t say yes. But they didn’t say no, either. More like wait and see. What the building inspector and Sewer Commission have to say, for starters. And ultimately, whether voters approve the Ayer-Shirley Regional School District high school building project.

The Playboard, however, had a more immediate issue to address. With grant funds in hand that will go away if they don’t act soon, the proposal they brought to the selectmen was to repave a targeted piece of the school playground, in part to provide handicapped access and for basketball courts, including “legal size” courts in back for adult use.

But the issue isn’t that simple. The portion of the playground in question sits atop an area that will have to be dug up to tie into town sewer, which at some point will be mandatory.

The question then becomes, when will that happen? Not any time soon, apparently, since the town doesn’t have the estimated $50,000 on hand to pay for the work.

Heinz asked if the paving plan could move forward, even if some time in the future it must be dug up again. This is phase one of a project that can’t get to phase two otherwise, she explained.

Chairman Andy Deveau said he understood the group’s dilemma, but if the courts were paved now, they’d have to be dug up for sewer lines later, which “doesn’t make sense.”

Besides, it’s unclear what will happen to LAW if the high school vote fails, he said.

In an earlier building project plan, the elementary school was part of an interdependent scenario in which it would be mothballed rather than fix its many ills, with students moved to the middle school building in Shirley, retrofitted for the purpose.

The third leg on which all else hinged was the building project, proposed then as a renovation and addition to the existing facility in Ayer as a combined middle and high school.

But in March, the Building Committee chose a high school only option instead.

With the merged middle school settled in Shirley and the new plan already approved by MSBA, the state agency that has agreed to reimburse the district for more than half of covered project costs, the proposal for the Ayer facility now is only for a high school.

Which leaves LAW out of the loop.

SMMA Architects who assessed LAW as part of the building project feasibility study said most of it is in better shape than previously envisioned. Viewed in that light, the school district plans to tackle repairs as needed within the framework of the budget, at least for the next several years.

But the selectmen have said the new scenario puts the town back on the hook for fixing up an aging building they’d thought would be out of the picture in a couple of years.

As things stand now, their slant seems to be that the big picture should be revisited if the current school building project plan fails. Especially with a nascent plan for Ayer to help Shirley pay its remaining middle school debt tied to it. “We asked Mr. Mock (ASRSD Superintendent Carl Mock) but he said there is no contingency plan,” Deveau said.

Refocusing the spotlight, Quinty proposed an interim solution to the pavement problem.

“We didn’t know that LAW wasn’t hooked up” to sewer already, he began. But that’s a moot point. “What we hope for now” is that pipe could be extended from the “stub” in the street to a point beyond the playground pavement site.

That way, when the time comes for a full hookup, the joiner would be accessible without digging up the new pavement. Quinty said the group plans to take the idea to the Sewer Commission, hopefully with the selectmen’s blessing.

That much the selectmen were prepared to give.

Quinty, who represents Shirley on the ASRSD School Committee, said he would bring the LAW sewer hookup issue up at the school board’s next meeting.

But in terms of making a decision about paving now, he said that even if the school were to “go away” in a district-wide redo of its building plans, the town would still have the playground.

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