SHIRLEY -- At a public forum hosted by the Ayer Shirley Regional School District Building Committee at the Ayer-Shirley Middle School last night, presentations centered on the high school building project and questions from the small audience afterward were project-specific, too.
Topics addressed during the two-hour program included architectural designs, educational programs, "green building" features and an explanation from Superintendent Carl Mock that outlined the thinking behind switching from a combined middle and high school project to a high school only plan.
It was the fifth such forum and this was standard stuff, all things considered. But there was one surprise.
Ayer-Shirley Regional School Committee Chairman Pat Kelly brought up an unexpected subject, that of a middle school buy-in cost that would divide existing debt on the middle school building between the two member towns, whose students now share the building.
Now paid only by Shirley, which built the middle school in 2003 for a total cost of $5.6 million, the proposal is to ask Ayer to share the remaining $3.5 million debt, on the books for the next several years.
Although the formula hasn't been worked out yet, Kelly said the idea is to come up with something more or less like the debt split for the current building project.
"This is a new item," he said. But people have asked about it.
If all goes as planned - that is, if a district wide vote to approve
The question then becomes how to structure the split. There's a formula for new buildings in the Regional Agreement, Kelly explained, but none for this situation.
The proposal, then, is to craft a warrant article for each Town Meeting this fall that will basically ask if Ayer should share the debt while the middle school is a shared building, Kelly said.
It's conditional, though, on whether the high school project and debt exclusions pass.
"After that, we design a new formula so that Ayer shares the capital costs for the Ayer-Shirley Middle School," Kelly said.
Asked after the forum if Ayer and Shirley selectmen are on board with the nascent financing plan, School Finance Director Evan Katz said they know about it and so far at least have not voiced objections. But the proposed warrant article hasn't been drafted yet.
There will be discussions about that with the two boards, he said.