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High-school design project awaiting word from estimators

Nashoba Publishing/Chelsea Feinstein Building Committee members listen to a speaker in the audience during Monday night’s meeting.

TOWNSEND — The North Middlesex Regional High School Building Committee submitted its schematic design package to estimators Friday, paving the way for the group to make final decisions on the school’s design.

In a joint meeting Monday with the School Committee and Boards of Selectmen and Finance Committees from member towns Ashby, Pepperell and Townsend, Building Committee Chair Rob Templeton briefed members of the boards on the project, which is estimated to cost $89.5 million.

Between 57 and 60 percent of eligible costs are expected to be reimbursed by the Massachusetts School Building Authority.

“We really looked at the long-term energy savings in addition to some short-term savings on the entire project,” Templeton said.

The building committee voted at their Oct. 7 meeting to pursue an advanced level of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED certification, to receive additional reimbursement points from the MSBA.

By spending an additional $103,000 in building costs to pursue the advanced energy certification points, the project could be eligible for an additional $1.3 million in MSBA reimbursement, as well as energy savings of $15,000 annually, Templeton said.

The gymnasium roof will also be designed to support solar panels in case the towns vote to install them at some point, Templeton said.

“Once the estimates come back, this is something that we may decide to move forward with and propose to the towns, or we could decide not to pursue it now but potentially later,” Templeton said.

Allowing the opportunity for the solar panels to be installed later is one way that the building committee is planning ahead, said lead designer Alex Pitkin.

“It’s very prudent to be ready for this and to accept that this is the direction people are going in the future,” Pitkin said.

The building committee will be finalizing its design plan after receiving estimates, and will submit a final schematic design proposal to the MSBA by Dec. 12. The MSBA will make a decision on the plan Jan. 29, and the proposal will go before each member town in both a Special Town Meeting and an election in March or April.

The school’s 180,530-square-foot floor plan will be organized into classroom clusters, with groupings for humanities, technology, science and arts and music, and will feature large group instruction areas, Superintendent Joan Landers said. The building will be designed so that sections of it can be closed off during community events to increase security.

“In all of our discussions, we’ve focused on maximizing the use of space to be cost-efficient,” Landers said.

Some, including Ashby Finance Committee Chair Kevin Stetson, questioned whether costs could be lowered any further by eliminating extra expenses, such as a $1 million turf field that has been discussed, but not decided on.

“We should think outside the box, rather than have everything be a Proposition 2 1/2 override,” Stetson said.

Paring down the design too much could raise costs later, said Pepperell Finance Committee Chair Melissa Tzanoudakis.

“There’s always a cost to add things later,” Tzanoudakis said. “If it’s going to cost $15 million now, but $20 million later, that’s something that people will understand.”

Pepperell Selectman Michael Green questioned the low turnout of residents at the meeting, and encouraged more people to attend and ask questions about the project at future meetings.

“This is a huge expenditure. Our residents need to be involved and I’d like to see them be involved,” Green said.

Follow Chelsea Feinstein on Twitter or Tout @CEFeinstein.