TOWNSEND -- The North Middlesex Regional High School building committee is expected to remove an option to expand the size of the proposed building's gym from the project, based on a recommendation from the Massachusetts School Building Authority.

According to Superintendent Joan Landers, the MSBA informed the committee last week that it would not support the expanded gym because it does not serve an educational need in the school.

"The MSBA commented that the expanded gym exceeds the space guidelines, has no educational reason and is not justified and the primary purpose appears to be for community use only. If the district pursues the expanded gym, the entire project could be in jeopardy in terms of MSBA participation," Landers said.

"If we were not able to schedule the high school day classes in the proposed gym space, the MSBA would not only support the expanded gymnasium space but would insist that the building committee and district include this space in the base project. This is not the case at NMRHS," she said.

The committee had planned to include the gym as an alternate on the project, which would only go forward if voters in Ashby, Pepperell and Townsend approve it and if there are bid savings on the project to pay for it.

The gym alternate was removed from the proposal for submission to the MSBA on Dec. 12, and will be formally voted on at the committee's next meeting on Dec. 16.

MSBA guidelines call for gyms that are 12,000 square feet. The expanded gym would have been about 18,000 square feet, slightly larger than the existing building's gym.

The needs of sports teams for practice space are not taken into account by the MSBA.

"I believe that student learning occurs inside our classroom walls as well as on our courts and playing fields. However, I respect the MSBA's decision and understand the burden these decisions place on taxpayers. I feel we need to work within the parameters set by the MSBA," Landers said.

Building Committee Chairman Rob Templeton said that while he feels that athletics are part of the educational program, the need for the expanded gym had been debated by the committee.

"It's not out of alignment with where I think the building committee was going. The expanded gym was ranked third out of the three alternates. It was only going to pass if all three towns voted for it and then only if there were savings during the bid process."

Templeton said that the school would have to find a way to work around any inconveniences the smaller gym might pose by possibly holding some practices at other schools.

However, removing the gym would help add more clarity to the voting process, he said.

"I think it ultimately helps us streamline the process. If the district and the towns feel that it's needed, in the future we can certainly proceed in the future without a problem. The cost to do it in the future would certainly exceed what it would cost now. But it makes for a cleaner building project to vote on than with that additional alternate and gives greater clarity to voters," Templeton said.

Another project alternate, for a maintenance building that would house storage and work space for the school's maintenance trucks and tractors, will stay on for voters to decide this spring.

Templeton said the MSBA acknowledged that the maintenance building is necessary in meeting the district's needs.

"They did previously bring up concerns, but we explained that the way maintenance is done across the district, that building was needed. I think the difference is that the gym is really integral in the building, and the maintenance building would stand alone," he said.

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