AYER – The Ayer Shirley Regional High School athletic fields are reportedly still in need of major repairs and upgrades cited in a controversial renovation plan that stalled last year after Shirley voters struck down a debt exclusion ballot question to fund it.
With a multi-million dollar fields project proposal on the table that had been in the works for over two years, the School Committee had agreed not to move forward unless and until both member towns passed the measure, which would have temporarily raised property taxes to cover project costs.
The ballot question passed in Ayer but failed in Shirley and the project has been in limbo ever since.
But it has not been shelved.
At its most recent meeting earlier this month, the School Committee voted to endorse a downsized version of the fields project previously proposed.
“It’s reduced in scope,” said Superintendent Mary Malone, aligning with the $5 million price tag Shirley voters have indicated they’d be more likely to support.
In a phone conversation with the Nashoba Valley Voice, Malone provided a sketch of the issue as it stands now and agreed to forward paperwork that spells out the details, including a copy of her recent visual presentation to the school board.
She asked that a full story about the fields project now in the pipeline be withheld until a later date, to avoid publishing “misinformation.” But the gist of it right now is that the track is unsafe due to its poor condition, and spectator areas are closed to the public, per order of the state architectural board.
The grass fields can be used for practice, but the bleachers and press box are now “off limits to the public,” she said, so games can’t be held on site, even after Covid-19 restrictions are lifted.
And the out-of-order status apparently applies to all high school sports, not just football. “That’s too bad,” she said, noting the district’s “award winning track team.”
The Architectural Access Board, an arm of the Massachusetts Office of Public Safety and Inspections, responding to handicapped accessibility complaint filed in Dec., 2019, informed the district in an official letter last month that home and visitors’ bleachers and the press box must be closed to the public until funding to rebuild and/or upgrade the fields facilities has been secured, Malone said.
The district must submit the plan and proof of funding to the state board, which must review and approve it for compliance, she explained. Basically, that means closed until further notice. Right now, the area is closed off, with signs and chains, she said.
In other business, the board discussed the latest Covid-19 update, with a second case reported at the Lura A. White Elementary School in Shirley, according to a public alert sent out via e-mail this week.
The first case was reported last month.
Thanks to protocols that have been carefully followed since schools re-opened this fall, including mask-wearing, frequent hand washing and six-foot social distancing, in classrooms, hallways, the cafeteria and the playground, it was determined that there’s been no in-school transmission” and the individual who tested positive had “no close contacts” with anyone in the school but would quarantine for the required 14-day period. “School is very safe,” Dr. Malone told the reporter.
Ayer Shirley elementary schools are in session with a hybrid plan in place: two full days for each of two cohorts – Pride and Panther – on alternating days of the week, with one day of all-remote for all.
A third “cohort,” dubbed “The Remote Academy,” continues to learn from home, with one teacher assigned to that group, exclusively.
Lunch is served for the two in-person groups and it’s working well, Malone said. It’s all safe, she said, including the buses.
When she recently asked some students three questions: Is their school safe? Are they happy? Are they getting a good education, most of them answered yes, she said.
Not surprisingly, a fourth question – were they “excited” to be back in school — got mixed reviews.