On Nov. 1, the Shirley Finance Committee voted 4 to 1 to recommend FAVORABLE action on the high school building project. This recommendation is based on the following:
The Educational Program:
The foremost consideration is the impact of the current high school facility on the delivery of a high quality educational program for the children of Ayer and Shirley. There is little disagreement for the need to upgrade the existing 1964 building. In their last accreditation review, the New England Association of Schools & Colleges (NEASC) determined that "the limitations of the building's capacity to support and sustain a stable physical environment are a hindrance to student learning opportunities." The educational environment of 2012 is dramatically different from the educational environment of 1964. The proposed renovation of the high school will deliver the physical resources necessary to provide an educational program for the future. It will enable the Ayer Shirley Regional School District to be competitive in an environment where students have a broad range of schools to choose from, and provide a high school capable of providing an education that supports student success in today's world.
Improvements in the educational program in the first year of operation of the regional school district, along with the opportunity for a renovated high school facility, appear to account for an improvement in the percentage of eighth-graders choosing to remain in the School District for high school. This trend needs to be encouraged in order to reduce the $2 million that leaves the district each year with students "choicing out" to other school districts.
Financial soundness and affordability:
It is acknowledged that the $56 million cost of the project is significant. But several positive economic factors drove our recommendation for approval of the project:
* 70 percent reimbursement by the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) for the cost of the project;
* Anticipated low interest rates on funds borrowed for the project;
* Favorable construction costs;
* Likely favorable economic impact that an improved school system would have on housing prices;
* The positive impact that the project would have on sustaining improvements in the Regional School District;
The $56 million cost estimate for the project is considered to be sound based on the detailed feasibility study ($685,000) that has been performed, and the continuous oversight of the project by MSBA and the School Building Committee. Approval by Ayer of cost sharing for the middle school also favorably impacts the cost of the High School project to Shirley. The Finance Committee considers the project to be affordable with an approximate cost of $19 per month for the average household in Shirley, over the 20-year term of the borrowing.
It should be noted that the often referenced estimate of $30 million that was discussed during the decision to regionalize the School District was an "order of magnitude" estimate (that data is now 5-6 years old). That estimate did not have the benefit of the comprehensive feasibility study that has now been completed.
Impact if the project not approved:
One alternative, if the project is not approved, is to revert to the initial middle-high school proposal. This would have the effect of delaying a major renovation project for an additional 2-3 years, beyond the current September 2014 estimated initial occupancy date of the high school, and:
* Would require approval of a much higher cost project (current estimate $78 million), including the costly renovation of a proven, successful middle school to accommodate kindergarten and primary school age children;
* Would put middle school and high school age children in the same facility, a less desirable model than separate facilities;
* Would likely result in a lower reimbursement rate from MSBA, and would send the district to "the back of the line" for reimbursement consideration
* Would likely result in a higher interest rate on borrowing as the overall economy improves;
* Would likely result in higher construction costs as the overall economy improves;
* May delay or reduce the rate of reduction in students "choicing-out" of the district;
What the proposed project does not resolve:
While the proposed building project provides a comprehensive solution to the high school educational program, it does not address the condition of the two primary schools in the district. For Shirley, this is the Lura A. White (LAW) school. The regional school district estimates that the Lura A. White school can function for another 10-15 years without major renovation (an engineering study performed in 2005 indicated a shorter time frame for needed improvements). To counter the risk that the estimate is overly optimistic, the regional school district is committed to annual reviews of the LAW building to ensure adequate maintenance is performed, and proposes the creation of a capital improvement fund to support ongoing maintenance and repair of the region's facilities.
In summary, the Shirley Finance Committee supports the high school building project. It provides a building with a projected 50-year life that will enable education in Shirley and Ayer to move forward and prepare our children for the future. It does this at a cost that is both a good value and is affordable. And, it is a major first step toward a comprehensive, long range solution for the Ayer Shirley Regional School District facilities.
SHIRLEY FINANCE COMMITTEE