On Saturday, Nov. 17, Ayer and Shirley will go the ballot box once again. This time it is to decide whether or not we will invest in our schools and our community by renovating the 50-year-old Ayer-Shirley Regional High School.
There are many reasons to say yes to the project. The building is decaying and it is time to act. It is part of any generation's legacy to leave behind resources and services that are better for the next generation. An educated populace is a good thing for all of us. We have taken care of the other facilities in both communities and now it is time for the high school.
But let's talk about the money and whether it makes sense. The answer again is yes. There is no disagreement that the building is aging and needs significant repair. The cost of the repairs alone has been determined to be $31 million and that is just to bring the building to code, with no improvements made for the delivery of educational programming.
So the question is: Is this the right time and is it a good price? With respect to timing, the school district has to send out $2.3 million in checks to other towns to educate Ayer and Shirley students, and that is destroying the district both psychologically and financially. In most communities, most children enjoy going to school together for 13 years and building friendships that last a lifetime. Here, less than half of the students who go to elementary school in Ayer or Shirley are enrolling in ASRHS. To be successful, to be viable, we have to reverse this trend and we have to do it now. We have some momentum with the regionalization process and the feasibility study and we have seen the culture beginning to change, but it all hinges on the high school. If it passes, then it will set the positive course for the school district and both towns for decades to come. If it does not, then I believe the opposite is equally as true.
So what about the price? Well the Building Committee has secured an unbelievable level of reimbursement -- 70.25 percent. This is a good 10 percent above the average for a district our size and demographic. The interest rates are at record lows, which means that borrowing will never be cheaper. The construction industry is just starting to come back and the cost of securing bids, subcontractors and materials is still very low. Put it all together and it is a perfect storm economically for this project. It will never be as cost effective as it is right now. If we delay, it will only get more expensive. Not only will we risk losing the 6 percent reimbursement from the state for being a new region (that is over $3 million), but also the cost of borrowing will only go up and the cost of construction will only go up. Time will also cause the choice-out problem to escalate further and ultimately cost taxpayers more money as we try to plug the holes. The building will break down and we will have to spend money to fix problems just to keep it open.
It was Ben Franklin who said, "time is money." He was never more correct than in the case of this project. It has to be done; there is no way around that. The longer we wait, the more it will cost. Investing now will set a positive course for the next two to three decades for the region and the two towns. Students will choose to stay in their hometown and go to their home high school and that is good for everyone. People will choose to buy homes here and open businesses here and that will be good for all of us. This project is the single most important economic-development program that either community can implement. It is critical not just for the students, but critical for all taxpayers. It is not just about a school building, it is about the heart and lifeblood of a community. It is about building the future for Shirley and Ayer. So it is time to choose. Time is money, and if you want to save money, then the time is now to vote yes on the high-school project.