TOWNSEND -- Selectmen voted 2-0 Tuesday to support construction of a new North Middlesex Regional High School.
Superintendent Joan Landers and School Committee member Robert Templeton came to the meeting to discuss the proposed $89 million construction project, which would be built on the school's existing location at 19 Main St. in Townsend.
Voters in Townsend will make a decision on the project at a Special Town Meeting on March 11. In order to go forward, the project must be approved by voters in all three of the district's member towns.
Town Administrator Andrew Sheehan said that with a $40 million grant from the Massachusetts School Building Authority on the table, now is the time to support the project.
"We have to do something with the schools. If we say no in April, we still have to come up with some plan for the school. We will spend more on a smaller project than we would with this project, and the impact on the community of rejecting the project will be significant in terms of flight and disinvestment from the community," Sheehan said.
Although a vote of support was not required, Selectmen Sue Lisio and Colin McNabb volunteered the vote as a show of their support before the project goes before voters.
Landers thanked selectmen for their support and attendance at meetings related to the project.
"We're really hoping this will revitalize our school department and the communities," Landers said. "I really see it as a positive thing for our students and the communities."
The board also discussed the fiscal year 2015 budget for the North Middlesex Regional School District, which features an increase of more than 3 percent in Townsend's operating assessment.
When combined with the town's transportation contributions, Townsend will be paying $406,235, which amounts to more than the town's increase in the tax levy for next year under Proposition 2 1/2.
The total proposed budget for the district is $45.96 million, a 2 percent increase from last year.
At Monday night's School Committee meeting, Sheehan asked the committee to cut the budget in order to alleviate the financial burden on Townsend.
Landers said that the budget is already tight, including a reduction of eight teaching positions. However, she said she would work this week on looking for other ways of cutting costs.
"I know that all our towns have fiscal challenges that they're dealing with," Landers said.
Initially, the district had projected a 4 percent increase due to hikes in transportation costs and contractual obligations, but had whittled it down to 2 percent, Landers said.
She will present a slimmed down version of the budget to the School Committee at its next meeting on March 3.
Lisio said that without a Proposition 2 1/2 override, which Townsend is not considering for fiscal year 2015, addressing the growing school assessment would be problematic.
"Trying to stretch that and live within your means is really difficult. We're facing it, you're facing it, everybody at home is facing it too," Lisio said.
Sheehan said that the cuts would help Townsend get some relief, as the town tries to meet increasing costs in its operational budget.
"I appreciate the fact that the School Committee and administration recognize the challenges we're facing, and hopefully we can work through it all, and I'll be happy at the end of the day with a new school under construction," Sheehan said.