LUNENBURG -- Town Manager Kerry Speidel said the Massachusetts School Building Authority's approval to grant nearly $36.2 million toward construction of a new middle-high school, as well as signing off on the town's preferred schematic design, are big steps in the right direction for the project.

The new school will be built based on an enrollment of 820 students in grades 6-12.

The MSBA will contribute 59.1 percent of eligible costs toward construction of the 169,018-square-foot facility, for a total grant of up to $36,190.870.

The current school was built in 1957 and has major structural deficiencies.

The next step in the process, according to a press release issued by the MSBA, is for the district and the MSBA to enter into a project- funding agreement, which will detail the project's scope and budget, along with conditions under which the district will receive the grant.

"It means we're finally in a position to be ready to go forward to Town Meeting," Speidel said. "That's always good. We can finalize everything now in terms of the warrant."

The warrant for Town Meeting remains open until next week, she said, but to date the school project is the only article.

Town Meeting is scheduled for Jan. 7 at the high school, with a ballot-question election at the T.C. Passios Elementary School on Jan. 11.

Michael Mackin, chairman of the School Building Committee, said he was thrilled to hear the news about the approval.

"This is obviously something the town can rally around. It's a new start and a new beginning with a new school, and we expect good support from voters," he said. "We believe we've made our case as to why a new high school is needed and why this is the best solution. It's been a long time coming."

Speidel said one thing that still needs to be discussed is whether the project will be financed through a 20- or 30-year bond.

"The board (selectmen) has not made that decision yet. It definitely will be a topic of discussion at their next meeting and they even may make a decision that night," she said. "It's their last opportunity to put anything in the narrative."

Speidel has not made a recommendation to the board on which bond option would be better -- and most likely will not, unless the board asks.

She did say that doing a 30-year bond would be easier financially on taxpayers.

"I don't think we should look at what is better for the project, but what is better for the community and townspeople. It wouldn't be unusual to do financing for over 30 years. It's really what's best for the taxpayer, so that's their decision," she said.

State Treasurer and Chairman of the MSBA Steven Grossman called the funding a "down payment" on the future academic needs of the students of Lunenburg and will provide students with a modern learning environment with the space they need to deliver the district's educational needs.

Superintendent of Schools Loxi Jo Calmes deferred all comments on the MSBA's decision to Speidel and Mackin. Both were in Boston for the meeting.

Follow Katina Caraganis on Tout and Twitter @kcaraganis.