TOWNSEND -- Residents voted in favor of building a new North Middlesex Regional High School with a strong majority in a Special Town Meeting Tuesday night.
Since Pepperell also voted in support of the project Monday night, the vote now moves to Ashby on Saturday morning. If Ashby votes in favor, all three towns would have to pass the project at the April 28 town elections for the school to be built.
The proposed construction project would cost $89.08 million, with $40.2 million reimbursed by the Massachusetts School Building Authority.
Of the cost that would fall to the towns, Townsend would pay 38 percent, based on its student population. The tax impact on Townsend is expected to be $159 per $100,000 valuation.
Taxes would rise by $142 per $100,000 in Pepperell and in $143 per $100,000 valuation in Ashby. The tax increases would go into full effect in 2018 and would last 28 years.
If the school project does not pass in all three towns, Building Committee Chairman Robert Templeton said the impacts could include a loss of New England Association of Schools and Colleges accreditation and declining property values as families leave the district.
"We have children and families who choice out of the district, they choose to go to different schools because of the facility of our current high school," Templeton said. "Residents have indicated that they are more likely to move from the community if the project would fail.
Additionally, Templeton said, it could take five to seven years to get back to the point of applying for another MSBA grant, during which time the project cost would rise with each year.
"During that time the cost escalation is going to continue and based on our estimates it's around 3 to 4 percent for each year on average," Templeton said.
Templeton also fielded questions on the reason a new construction option was chosen as opposed to a renovation.
The cost for a renovation would have been nearly as high as that of new construction, he said, and because the old school is larger than MSBA guidelines permit, the state wouldn't pay to renovate a 20,000-square-foot section of the existing building.
Superintendent Joan Landers said a renovation would also disrupt student learning more than new construction, and provide the added cost of renting modular classrooms.
Resident Todd Melanson saidthe students of North Middlesex deserve a building that reflects their accomplishments.
"If we make this investment, it will pay itself back in property values and things like the sustainability of our communities," Melanson said. "The people who live here are extraordinary and we should have a facility that represents that."
Voters also approved two project alternates, a maintenance building and upgrades to the athletic fields. Both alternates would only go forward if all three towns approve the articles at Special Town Meetings and if the base project comes in low enough under budget to fund them without exceeding the project budget.
The $801,350 maintenance building would provide space to store and work on the maintenance vehicles used throughout the school district.
The athletic-field upgrades, estimated at $2,688,916, would include a widening of the track, upgrades to the bleachers and preparing the football field for the possibility of a future conversion to artificial turf.
If both alternates pass and only one can be paid for without going over the $89.08 million budget, the Building Committee would choose which option would take priority, Templeton said.
Pepperell voters also approved both alternates Monday night.
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