AYER - As the "yes" campaign continues it's push for a $56 million renovation and addition for Ayer Shirley High School, the Ayer Board of Selectmen voted 4-1 Tuesday night in support of the project.
Building Committee Chair Murray Clark was accompanied by Ayer Shirley Regional School Committee Pat Kelly in asking the board to take a formal stand on the lynchpin Nov. 17 two-town vote to approve the project and a debt exclusion measure. "We can't tell you to do that but that is why we are here," said Kelly.
"I think everybody is aware of it," said Clark. "This is a very important project for both towns - Ayer and Shirley."
The state has committed to covering 70.25 percent, or more than $37 million, of the construction cost. The towns must each deliver 'yes' votes on two ballots on Nov. 17 to cover the towns' local share of the project.
The board members went around the table, showing their support for the project. "I had a lot of questions at the outset," said selectman Gary Luca. "Everything has been answered to my satisfaction."
"I'd agreed I'd think long and strong about supporting the project," said selectman Pauline Conley who has expressed her doubts about the project initially. She said she was impressed with the committee's work, citing her "comfort" with Murray's involvement. She also said a woman at a public forum convinced her that the state money "is our money. That is the overriding component of this that people may not have considered."
Selectman Christopher Hillman has remained a proponent of a high school overhaul since it's proposal.
Selectman Frank Maxant lodged the sole dissenting vote, stating that Ayer was already "subsidizing" Shirley through the initial school regionalization project through its annual assessment to the tune of $1 million spread over the district's inaugural five years.
Maxant said opposed the rolling into the high school project the Shirley Middle School debt, which predates the July 1, 2011 formation of the regional school district.
"Now we're asked to pay another $2 million," said Maxant. "Its unfair to the taxpayers of Ayer and I can't go along with that."
"I wish you'd go back and research year one of the region costs," said Murray. "It's my understanding that Ayer did not pay any more for education than they did over the last year when it was just Ayer alone."
"Ayer paid more than the 60/40 split," based on student population, said Maxant. "That's what I'm talking about."
"The school has been on the exact same budget for 3 years running," said Kelly.
Selectman Chair Jim Fay said he wrote a letter to the editor of the Ayer Public Spirit in support of the project. A father of three Ayer High School graduates, Fay said "I hope that this vote yes will allow the school to improve...We're getting it at a good price."
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