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I am writing this letter as I have seen that many Shirley voters have questions on the timing of moving forward with the fields project and want our school district to put education first. However, this is precisely what our school district has done. Four years ago we completed a much needed renovation of our Ayer Shirley Regional High School. Our original project for the High School renovation included a renovation of the athletic fields, however to ensure the project was approved and to prioritize education first we removed the fields proposal to reduce the costs of the project as much as possible.

When any school renovation is completed a key partner in this process is the Massachusetts State Building Authority, the MSBA contributed 68% of the funds for our renovated High School. Once MSBA contributes to a project the district is prohibited from submitting any additional request for financing so that it can distribute resources across the sate. This means that Ayer and Shirley can not start the process of evaluating a renovation for our elementary schools until next year. The process of applying and receiving funds from MSBA can take several years, towns must compete with other school districts for limited resources. In addition school districts can not get any state financial contributions for fields, they must go it alone. This puts addressing our elementary schools on a different process, different timeline and different funding mechanism. This does not mean that they are not a top priority for our School Committee, they are.

In the mean time our student athletes are playing on dilapidated and unsafe fields that are 57 years old. Our current fields were constructed in 1963. In 1963 we did not play soccer in Ayer or Shirley; therefore the four current school soccer teams are forced to play in the baseball outfield. The dimensions of our soccer field cross over into the clay infield of the baseball diamond, creating extremely unsafe conditions for our players and our visiting teams. The football field is too narrow to support soccer or if added a lacrosse or field hockey team. Most of the stands in our football field have already had to be taken down, what remains are falling apart and rusted. Our stands and facilities are not ADA compliant so people with disabilities can not access our stands. We do not have any bathroom facilities on our field. These are just a few of the conditions our students and spectators are dealing with on these outdated fields. Fields are a valuable asset to not just the school but also the community at large, there are countless other activities that are performed on the schools field complex.

Any teacher will tell you that athletics are an absolutely critical component to a child’s education. They build self-esteem, teach team work, work ethic and instill a sense of pride in the athlete, the student body and the community.

I recently saw a letter from one of our students, while we are not in agreement on this critical project for our school system I’d like to say I have the utmost respect for his passion on the issue, and how involved he is in his community. If we have many others like him in our school district it will excel! I have told him before that I very much look forward to the time when we are on the same side of the issue and I have an opportunity to work with him! Please vote YES this Saturday, September 28. Our kids are worth the investment.

Kevin Bresnahan, of Ayer.