Shirley Town Offices to reopen next month; selectmen set date for fields vote

Shirley Town Offices to reopen next month; selectmen set date for fields vote
Shirley Town Offices to reopen next month; selectmen set date for fields vote

SHIRLEY – Town offices here have been closed to the public since statewide Covid-19 cases spiked and the town entered the pandemic “red zone.”

But with reported resident cases down to about 20 a day by the latest count, that designation is now yellow, meaning it may be time to reconsider. Again.

The selectmen on Monday night asked Town Administrator Mike McGovern where things stand.

After the state-wide shutdown in March, 2020, the building had re-opened to the public in June, only to close again this fall, when numbers went up. The closure continued over the winter. But the picture has improved enough since then to suggest another strategic shift.

Having been among the first municipal buildings to re-open after the state shut down last year and one of the few in the area to do so, town offices were later closed again due to a spike in Covid-19 cases, state-wide, McGovern said.

Now, the plan is to re-open again on Monday, April 5.

Although closed to the public, town employees have continued to work in the town offices, with social distancing and mask requirements still in place, per the governor’s orders.

McGovern said those safeguards remain, going forward. Hopefully, case numbers will continue to ramp downward, he said, but he’ll monitor the situation and take action accordingly.

The board also voted 2-1 to put a debt exclusion question related to the Ayer Shirley High School fields project on the May 4 town election ballot, at the request of the ASRSD School Committee.

Debra Flagg and Bryan Sawyer voted yes. Chairman Andree Jean Jacques voted “take no action,” which will be recorded as abstaining.

Originally proposed with a $7.2 million price tag, the plan to rebuild the track, upgrade fields and add new features and fixtures to the complex has been re-visited more than once since a debt exclusion bid aimed at paying each member town’s share of the project failed in Shirley. It passed in Ayer.

With a new architectural firm on board and a downsized plan ready to go, the new figure – $5.2 million — closely aligns with an alternate plan Shirley voters had indicated more appetite for when they rejected the debt exclusion 18 months ago, for the second time.

Flagg said it’s reasonable for townspeople to ask how many times they must say no. But, she said, there’s no doubt now that the high school athletic fields project is a must-do.

The question last time was whether the renovation plan was too ambitious, with features that could be scratched or postponed, such as a field house with an elevator and multiple public bathrooms. Planners went back to the drawing board and came up with a more modest proposal.

Outdoor lighting for night games is still in, along with new bleachers, portable rather than permanent, which cuts down on the number of bathrooms required by law. ADA also calls for handicapped seating access. A ramp from the second-level parking lot meets that measure, so no elevator is needed for now.