PEPPERELL -- The North Middlesex Regional High School Building Committee is looking into the future, in the short term and in the long term. Superintendent of Schools Joan Landers organized a "visioning session" for members of the community to gather and share ideas of what they would like to see from the high-school building project.
The committee is discussing several options, including building a new school, renovating the current school and adding on to the current school. The district was issued a grant by the Massachusetts School Building Authority, which will reimburse them for 57.11 percent of the cost of the feasibility study and design phase. The grant will continue through the rest of the process, but the amount that it will cover is still to be determined, contingent on the final design.
Visioning sessions are a fundamental part of the process, said Landers.
"This is a community effort, this is your building project," she said.
More than two dozen teachers, administrators and parents came out to the meeting, chiming in their ideas.
The spread-out layout of the school raised several concerns, ranging from hallway traffic to eco-friendliness to security. Other concerns included the outdated science labs, the inconsistent heating zones, a desire for upgraded bathroom facilities and gym facilities, conference space for teachers and a larger auditorium.
They also discussed the positive aspects and programs of the school that they would like to see fostered, such as overall academics, performing arts, service-learning groups and the creativity of the faculty.
As part of the design consideration, Landers asked attendees to consider the educational needs of the future generations who will one day occupy the building.
"We're not building a school for five years or 10 years. (The current building) is 50 years old," she said. "I'm sure that 50 years ago, people building this building did not know what our education was going to look like."
Attendees brainstormed about what the future of education might consist of. Ideas included virtual learning, telecommuting and paperless education. The brainstorm brought on a new realm of points to consider, including a student's need for collaboration, self-motivated learning, critical thinking and an emphasis on social skills.
John Mynttinen said that while those ideas were all considerations, the committee should also plan for the possibility that education might not change all the much.
"I'm sure 50 years ago, they would say we were going to be virtual now, but here we are still in the same classrooms," he said.
The committee has received eight proposals from design offices to take on the project. They've narrowed the selection to three: Flansburgh Architects of Boston, Design Partnerships of Cambridge and Symmes and Maini and McKee Associates of Cambridge.
On Feb. 29, three members of the committee will meet with a 12-member panel of the MSBA to vote on the designer.
A couple of days later, said owner's project manager Peter Collins of Heery International, a contract will be written, signed and executed.
Then the committee will conduct a facilities assessment and begin evaluating options for solutions to any issues that are found. Once a report is approved at a state level, the schematic design phase begins. The committee hopes to bring their solution to Pepperell, Townsend and Ashby for the fall 2013 Special Town Meeting.
"If all things go well, we could probably open the doors to some kind of new facility, or add-on facility or renovated facility probably around the start of the school year in September 2017," he said.
"Of course, the Building Committee is always pushing to go faster," said School Committee Chairwoman Susan Robbins.
Throughout the process, the committee will continue to hold informational sessions with the public to gather feedback.
"It's all hands on deck for the process. Nobody's working in a vacuum. It's going to be totally transparent through the process," said Collins.
The Building Committee has begun the process-site visits around several high schools throughout the state that have been newly renovated or built. Three have already been completed, with three more scheduled next week.
"It's primarily to look at how the educational programming is laid out in the building. I definitely start with questions of 'What do you like about the facility? What would you have done differently?' " said Landers.