TOWNSEND -- Voters in Ashby, Pepperell and Townsend will flock to Special Town Meetings next week to determine whether the towns should build a new North Middlesex Regional High School.
Pepperell will host its Special Town Meeting on Monday, March 10 at 7:30 p.m. at Nissitissit Middle School. Townsend's will be Tuesday, March 11 at 7 p.m. at Town Hall, and Ashby's will be Saturday, March 15, at 9:30 a.m. at Ashby Elementary School.
The project will need to pass by a two-thirds vote at all three Special Town Meetings to go forward. It must also pass in all three towns' annual elections in April.
Robert Templeton, Chairman of the Building Committee, said that he hoped the committee had effectively communicated the project details to voters in the lead-up to the Special Town Meetings.
"This committee is made up of 15 members of three communities and they have really worked hard to put a project forward that the voters can support and trust, and that's really the biggest thing," Templeton said. "It is important for our communities, important for our students, and I hope that we've done our job well enough to get that information out there and that folks can look at information and see that importance."
The proposal for new construction of a high school on the school's existing property at 19 Main St. in Townsend was designed to meet student needs for the next 50 years.
The $89 million project will be partially funded by the Massachusetts School Building Authority, which has agreed to put $40 million toward the project if it passes. The remainder of the cost would be divided among the three member towns proportionally based on student population size. Pepperell would pay about 50 percent of the remaining cost, Townsend would pay about 38 percent and Ashby would pay about 12 percent.
The payments would be funded through a debt exclusion, which would raise taxes by similar amounts in each town. In Pepperell, taxes would increase by $142 per $100,000 of valuation. In Townsend the increase would be $159 per $100,000 of valuation, and in Ashby it would be $143 per $100,000.
If voters choose not to pass the project, the school district would have to appoint a new building committee and begin the feasibility study and design process again if they wish to make another attempt.
In addition to voting on the building itself, voters will also be presented with two project alternates, which would only be completed if voters approve them and if there are bid savings elsewhere in the project to cover the additional cost.
The first is a maintenance building that would allow storage and work space for the vehicles that are used to maintain not just North Middlesex Regional High School, but the other schools in the district as well.
The second are upgrades to the athletic fields, which includes widening the track so that it can be used for competitions, and preparing the football field for the possibility of being converted to artificial turf. The alternate and the base project do not include an upgrade to a turf field.
A previously considered alternate to enlarge the gymnasium was removed during the design process because of concerns from the MSBA that the gym size didn't directly impact student learning.
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