AYER -- Selectmen followed the lead of Shirley selectmen and agreed Tuesday night to set a two-ballot special election for Saturday, Nov. 17. The vote was contingent based on confirmation with the secretary of state's office on the hours the polls must be open.

Ayer-Shirley Regional School District Superintendent Carl Mock asked for the two ballots to be put to voters on the same day, at the same time. One ballot asks voters in Ayer and Shirley whether they approve of the proposed expansion and renovation plans for Ayer-Shirley High School. The second ballot in each town asks voters whether they approve of a debt-exclusion mechanism to help fund the $19 million local portion of the estimated $56 million project.

The hours for the elections -- to be held separately but concurrently in Ayer and Shirley -- are from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m., said Mock. The eight-hour voting window is mandated by the Massachusetts School Building Authority for regional school projects, said Mock.

For the project to proceed as outlined, Mock said voters must vote "yes, yes" between the two ballots. Opponents would vote "no, no, I assume."

"The result of the regional vote is contingent on the successful debt-exclusion votes in each community," said Mock.

Selectman Pauline Conley asked if the debt-exclusion voting hours must run 13 hours, from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

"Can we shorten our vote?" she asked.

Mock said he had conferred with Ayer Town Clerk and election official John Canney. Mock said they agreed there's "nothing in your bylaw that requires the hours you suggested." Mock said the same question arose in Shirley but in the end it was agreed "to have different hours would not seem to make sense."

Conley said she was not opposed to both votes on the same day, but suggested the hours be checked with the Secretary of State's Office so the school district doesn't have to "do it all again."

"I don't think it's up to the town," to suggest election hours, said Conley. "It's a phone call, and I'd encourage us to make that inquiry."

The board unanimously set a Nov. 17 dual-ballot election date for Ayer voters with hours set from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., contingent on state approval.

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