AYER -- Board members of the Ayer Public Access Channel, the nonprofit corporation that creates public access content for Channels 8, 9 and 99 on the local cable network, recently discussed their video studio and production area plans for the soon-to-be completed renovations at the Ayer Shirley Regional High School with members of the district's school committee.

The relationship between APAC and the schools began in 2005 in Ayer High School English teacher Sherri Milkowski's public-speaking class. That year, Milkowski's students created the content, and APAC Director and Co-founder Doug Becker, with staff videographer Kristen Taylor, did the videography and editing.

The following year, the Ayer High School Communications and Broadcasting Club was formed. Two grants later, in 2006, APAC was able to purchase equipment for a video production class, and in August 2007, AHS computer technology teacher Barbara Dyer, aided by Becker, taught a first-time AHD video class.

The club began recording sports games, and, eventually, senior class video was approved as an independent study option. Soon technology teacher Steve Tulli began teaching a broadcast journalism class, and the school obtained improved video recording and lighting equipment.

In 2010, video became the most requested elective in the high school, and Becker received the school's first Hometown Hero award for his years of volunteer service.

Today, video production is part of the art curriculum at the high school, and the soon-to-be renovated building will include a fully equipped studio accessible to both students and APAC.

Planning for a "Burgeoning" Program

"For some time now, in the plans for the high school, we have wanted to put in a TV and production studio," said Ayer Shirley Regional School District (ASRSD) Superintendent Carl Mock. "We would like it to be a burgeoning program with Ayer Public Access. We're now approaching the time next fall that they will be occupying the (new studio) space."

APAC President Charlie Comeau, with Board Member and Treasurer Harry Zane and Director of Operations Becker, said that the trio had a fair amount of experience in public access. He and Becker are founding members, and Zane is a retired marketing executive and educator.

"We have an MOA and would like to start the process of discussing it in greater detail with Carl and the school," he said.

School Committee Chair Pat Kelly said that the committee had seen the first draft and would like to talk about the vision of the project, and "what we can pull off now with the school's design."

Becker relayed some of the history of APAC's longstanding relationship with the high school, and Comeau explained how much APAC depends upon student volunteers during the summer in order to get different events covered and recorded.

"They are absolutely great at moving equipment, and we are looking forward to the ADA-compliant new school because we will have ramps instead of steps," he said.

"And the room will be 50 feet from the auditorium," Kelly added.

Becker said that he had some concerns about the renovated auditorium being smaller than it was previously, but that the school would be wired such that APAC could plan on using overflow space for televising events.

Comeau said that the students would now be able to run a "good-morning-type of news program that can be broadcast throughout the school in the classrooms," which would, according to Becker, "make the morning announcements that much more interesting."

"We can also broadcast live in the future. It is in the plans and in the contract with Comcast," Comeau said.

Zane said that APAC had just renewed its contract with Comcast, and that part of that is an additional channel for expanded programming.

"And with the studio we can do more public information programs," he said. In addition, APAC will have a website with much of its programming available on demand. The new website is http://www.ayerpac.org.

The new studio will be a hub in the new building, with connections to the gym, classroom spaces, and the auditorium. Becker said that APAC would like to use it frequently, giving community members, video production students, and video broadcasting club members professional experience with professional-grade equipment.

Another advantage of the new space, said Becker, is that without having to pay for heat or rent, APAC will be able to put more of its operational funds into the people who can cover events.

From Middle to High School: Joining Two Communities

In 2012, Shirley Public Access Corporation (SPACO) President Rich Dill, Becker, and Zane presented their case for a Memorandum of Understanding that would allow SPACO to improve the infrastructure already in place in the Ayer Shirley Regional Middle School, located in Shirley.

SPACO maintains its studio space there, and its executive director, Lou Carreras, runs the middle school's media literacy courses.

With the new space at the high school, "We could live-broadcast a Friday night basketball game, which is very exciting for the kids," said Kelly. "The kids can now produce things in the middle school and bring them into the high school program."

Already from the high school, said Comeau, some of the video production students have gone on to be hired by APAC, and another is now studying video production at Fitchburg State University.

APAC currently runs one video channel and one video bulletin board. The third channel will be split between government and educational programming, Comeau explained.

"There will be plenty of time for educational access events," said Becker. "The third camera will make a big difference for us."

A community channel will be set up between the two towns for live programming, and will go over the Internet, clarified School Committee Member Joyce Reischutz. To access the website, one does not have to be a Comcast subscriber.

The Specifics

The MOA will spell out the times and spaces in the building available for use by APAC staff, directors, and members. APAC would like to have 24/7 year-round access to the production facility and restrooms, and to the auditorium when it is not in use by the school.

APAC is also requesting the use of a mutually available web-based tool to schedule use of the studio and editing facilities; that access to the studio be on a first-come, first-served basis; that APAC equipment not leave the studio without APAC supervision; and, that the studio be under an instructor's supervision when students are present.

Other APAC requests include that: designated APAC equipment be used only under APAC board-member or employee supervision; there be exclusive storage of approximately 150 feet for APAC equipment; permanent wiring, cabling, terminations, patch bays, bulkheads, and other infrastructure be defined; and, APAC have access to furniture, fixtures, and work surfaces.

APAC would agree to allow the school exclusive use of specified studio equipment up to 20 hours per week, and to have all APAC staff meet ASRSD CORI requirements, if requested.

Mock and Kelly said that a fair amount of work had already gone into planning for the studio, and that people would be pleased with the way the building has been zoned off to keep the studio and the rest of the school building separate.

"The committee is excited about finalizing the MOA and will work things out and move forward," said Kelly.

Becker then expressed his appreciation and admiration for all that the school district had accomplished.

"I never thought any of this could happen," he said.