AYER -- The renovation project at Ayer-Shirley Regional High School is well under way as the start of a new school year approaches. ASRHS students will remain in the old middle school wing while construction on the other side of the school progresses.

According to Principal Brian Haas, construction of the building project is 20-25 percent finished. The main focus now is on getting ready to pour the new foundation for the high school wing of the school.

All students were moved into the old middle school side of the building last April, and will remain there while the old high school wing is remodeled from the foundation up. Once work on the old high school wing is finished, students and classrooms will be moved into that wing, while the other is knocked down.

The two main differences students will notice when they arrive in a few weeks is that the cafeteria is smaller and the main entrance has been relocated, as the Washington Street entrance is currently a construction zone.

Although the renovations and construction will not be finished until fall 2015, ASRHS is on its way to an entirely new look. Only parts of the building will be new but, "It's all going to look and feel brand new," Haas said.

Among new portions of the building will be the academic wing, classrooms and labs. "The other side is the gym will be renovated with a new floor, paint, divider, backboards and bleachers with (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliance," Haas said. "Basically, everything in the gym will be new."

The same goes for the auditorium, which is also getting a makeover. The auditorium itself is the original one, seating approximately 900 students. Haas explained that the school was originally built to accommodate Devens students who attended Ayer High School. Once Fort Devens closed, that additional space was no longer needed but remains available for use now. That's also why students will be able to remain at the high school during the duration of the construction.

"The footprint of the building is staying the same, but the configuration is changing," Bob Watson, facilities coordinator for ASRSD, said.

The entire project is set at $56 million, with approximately 70 percent reimbursed by the Massachusetts School Building Authority. Haas said a higher level of reimbursement was gained by being as "green" as possible in the building plans and acquiring "LEED points." Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design points are awarded to building projects that are environmentally responsible. ASRHS was able to get up to 70 points.

Not only will the high school be more energy efficient, it will also provide a fresh look.

"The high school has not had any renovation since the 1960s," said Robert Pontbriand, Ayer Town Administrator. Much of the renovation is focused on getting the school up to date technologically.

The school will host a new television studio for the Ayer Public Access Channel and broadcast classes for students, as well as new locker rooms, fitness areas, art rooms and science labs. The parking lot is even getting a touch-up allowing for more organized traffic flow.

"Since school choice in Massachusetts is very competitive, we are also doing this project in the hope that the ASRSD will attract more students," Pontbriand said.

Both residential and commercial property values in town will raise as well, he added. "An investment of this magnitude is always significant to opening the town to new opportunities," he said.

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