SHIRLEY -- As elected officials, Ayer Shirley Regional School District members like Joyce Reischutz represent the citizens of their respective member towns. But they also share a broader commitment: To help provide high quality education to all students in the school district, no matter where they live.
From finances to politics to policy-making to oversight of capital projects such as the ongoing $56 million ASRSD high school renovation and addition, it's a challenging job, not every volunteer's cup of tea.
But after a total of about 13 years, including several stints on the Shirley School Committee, Reischutz just keeps saying, "more, please."
Reischutz is running unopposed to represent Shirley for another three-year term.
A staunch advocate for public education, despite some public angst over increasing costs, Reischutz sees tremendous value in the high school project.
Construction site visit
A complete makeover of the 50-plus-year-old building perched atop Ayer's Washington Street, with extensive interior and exterior upgrades, the project also includes razing and replacing two wings on existing footprints.
"It's exciting," Reischutz said during a recent interview at the construction site, where she and Joe Napolitano of Consigli Construction offered insight on the work-in-progress.
After a rainy spell, pouring concrete topped the day's to-do list.
Amid churned earth, rows of varied-size pipes, hoses and other construction materials laid out in areas where they would be used, workers wearing hard hats, safety glasses and bright yellow vests and a fleet of dozers and diggers went about their assigned tasks.
Asked about pickup trucks bearing varied company logos, Napolitano said that at this stage, the on-site crew -- nearly 100 on a recent day -- includes subcontractors from all over New England. With much of the major work slated for school vacation, there will be 150-170 workers on site this summer, he said.
Finding a safe place to park wasn't easy, but Napolitano said it should get better once the reclaimed pavement workers are tearing up now has been repurposed to create a fenced parking area for construction vehicles where the tennis courts used to be.
After the project is complete, the courts will be repaired and repaved, Reischutz said.
It's tough to see the big picture amid what looks like controlled chaos, but the guys in charge -- Napolitano, Superintendent Mike Codianne and their supervisor Christian Riordan -- have this project well in hand, Reischutz said, marveling at the well-ordered site. Completion is on track for August 2016.
Any surprises? There are always "little things," she said, but the only hold-up so far was when a concrete slab had to be removed so demolition could continue, she said.
District oversight as she sketched it sounds like an orderly process, too, including Tuesday morning updates in the Consigli construction trailer, a temporary office building with all the business basics: Copier, file cabinets, private offices off the main room, where hefty rolled-up plans are dated and stacked according to use.
Reischutz said it's an efficient operation and very interesting. "You learn a lot," she said.
Besides herself and contractors, those at the table for the weekly sessions usually include the Building Committee chairman, three or four architects, ASRSD Superintendent Carl Mock, Finance Director Evan Katz and the school facilities manager, among others. "Every chair is filled," she said.
The School Committee gets updates from the Building Committee, which meets regularly with the architects and Owner's Project Manager Tripp Elmore of Dore and Whittier, she said. In addition, the School Committee must vote on expenditures above a certain amount. "It's a big budget" that she and other district officials and administrators are keeping a close eye on, Reischutz said, adding that costs are "within parameters" to date.
One of her goals for the next three years is to "see the project through," she said.
The completed renovation will offer a bright, modern facility that's about as good as new, Reischutz said, from state-of-the-art science labs, music and art rooms to updates, upgrades and floor-to-ceiling re-builds and recreated spaces throughout, with bright walls, new flooring and lots of natural light from strategically-placed windows. The list of value-added items includes facilities the community can share as well as take pride in, such as a new gymnasium and a revamped, 500-seat auditorium with upgraded sound system and lighting and a new library/media center.
With a phased-in plan aimed at causing minimum disruption and the prospect of a bright new school for today's middle-school classes to move into, the high-school building project is a big step up for the district, Reischutz said. She predicted it would help stem choice-out to other districts. "It creates excitement," she said and will enhance education for years to come.