TOWNSEND -- The North Middlesex Regional School Committee's high school building committee approved an estimate for the North Middlesex Regional High School building project to be submitted to the Massachusetts School Building Authority this month.
The estimate came to $88.6 million without alternates, slightly under the project's planned $89.5 million budget.
Members of the committee said that the MSBA will not allow project estimates to go over budget, but that project alternates, which are listed separately on the warrant at Special Town Meeting, are counted outside that budget.
The North Middlesex project includes three alternates: a maintenance building, upgrades to the athletic fields and track and an expanded gym.
The maintenance building, estimated at about $900,000, would provide storage and work space for the tractors and trucks used to maintain the property. At its last meeting on Nov. 25, the committee voted to reduce the size of the maintenance building, which brought the estimated cost down from $1.2 million.
The athletic upgrades alternate, if passed, would widen the track so it could be used for competitions and ready the football field for the possibility of replacement with turf in the future. An alternate to add a turf field during construction was rejected by the building committee.
The expanded gym option would add a third bay to the gym at a cost of $1.3 million, making it large enough to hold community events and accommodate demand for practice space from various teams and community groups.
Committee members debated a decision that was made at their Nov. 25 meeting to make the expanded gym contingent on bid savings later on in the project, although no new votes were taken. Even if voters approve it, the expanded gym would only go forward if money is saved elsewhere.
Member Oscar Hills said that making the gym upgrade contingent on bid savings would take the power away from the voters to decide if it is an expense worth paying for.
"To put it on there so they really can't vote and support it doesn't represent the people who've been calling me," Hills said. "You'd be taking away the choice from those who want it and are willing to rally and push for it."
Chairman Rob Templeton said that the expanded gym was the committee's third priority among the three alternates. The committee made the gym contingent on savings to prevent costs from snowballing, he said.
Member Sue Lisio said the contingency was designed to keep taxes from increasing even further.
"We're giving them a choice, but also telling them we didn't think it was prudent to go forward with something that would add to the budget and add to the tax increase," Lisio said.
Committee member Stephen Themelis questioned why the cost estimates for North Middlesex were significantly higher than that of the new school being built in Lunenburg.
Project manager Peter Collins, of Heery International, answered that the Lunenburg school has fewer science labs and shared some resources since it is a combined middle and high school. Also, building costs for the middle school portion of the building are lower than high school building costs.
Follow Chelsea Feinstein on Twitter and Tout @CEFeinstein.