AYER – The Ayer Shirley Regional High School fields project, which has been a work in progress, off and on, for more than three years, is geared up to get going again, this time with the barrier that had stopped it in its tracks removed.

Specifically, passage of debt exclusions in both member towns, a caveat the School Committee had attached to borrowing for the project so that neither Ayer nor Shirley taxpayers would be burdened with a budget-breaking bill when regional school assessments came due.

Ayer passed the debt exclusion first time around. After three tries, Shirley did too.

With a price tag that once topped out at $7.2 million and is now down to $5.2 million — an amount Shirley residents had indicated they could live with – the School Committee voted this week to approve the sale of a bond anticipation note, or BAN.

According to ASRSD Business Manager Bill Plunkett, the BAN matures in a year, at which time, the district must either secure fixed financing to pay off the note or renew it.

The lower figure is also the amount the Fields Committee is working with as it explores various design options with Activitas, the architectural firm hired to design a new layout for the existing sports facility, with elements dating back to the construction of the original Ayer High School, more than 50 years ago.

The envisioned new layout includes reconfigured playing fields, revamped spectator area, a new running track with artificial turf and other upgrades.

At the Fields Committee meeting Tuesday afternoon, Activitas owner and principal architect Patrick Maguire reviewed ongoing work, including an existing conditions survey and geo-technical testing.

He presented preliminary schematic designs from various angles, from the shape and size of the multi-lane running track, to areas for other track and field sports, such as javelin, discus and shot-put, pole vaulting and hurdles. On-screen sketches also showed areas designated for baseball and soccer fields and mapped out makeover options for the spectator area, including press box and bleachers.

It’s early days yet, Maguire pointed out, and the design is in some ways still a flexible work in progress.

The concession building, for example, and the press box, both of which hinge on handicapped access, as do the bathrooms. In the original plan, new bleachers were permanent structures, triggering state standards for the number of male and female restrooms in the building. In the downsized version, the bleachers are “semi-portable,” which does not involve state building codes and allows more leeway.

Among the many technical issues and items at issue, the group discussed fences, a retaining wall, the length of a handicapped access ramp and the location of the concession area relative to the restrooms. How far a walk would it be? In one scenario, restrooms are 600 feet from the seating area. Maguire suggested exploring other options, “with cost in mind,” he said.

He also seemed to favor building a new press box versus keeping the existing one, noting a one- percent contingency fund in the project budget that might cover the added cost. He agreed to research the idea and bring back related facts and figures next time.

Also for next time, the group agreed to dig deeper into another item on the to-do list that raised concerns when the project was presented to the public previously: artificial turf. Specifically, what filler material should be used. Options range from rubber (crumb, coated or virgin) to sand (silica or coated) to plastic or natural fibers.

Again, cost is a major factor. But according to Maguire, all of the substances listed are safe and have been used in school sports complexes for some time without problems. He also laid out a case for installing padding under the turf “carpet,” for added comfort and safety. Not a must, he said. The surface works perfectly well without it. But his firm favors padding, he said, despite the added cost.

The next Fields Committee meeting is set for Tuesday, September 15 at 4:30 pm at the high school.

Public presentations should also be scheduled at some point as plans progress, Maguire said, with groundbreaking envisioned for April, 2022.