New Handout on ASRHS Field Project

Debt Exclusion Letter to Shirley Residents

September 10, 2019 Public Forum on Field Project Powerpoint

Watch the ASRHS Field Public Forum held at the Middle School on Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Keeping You Informed: The Ayer Shirley High School Fields Project
why the fields when our elementary schools need improvement

A question we often get, and it is a very valid one, is why spend money on high school athletic fields when we have aging elementary schools? We will have much more to say on this topic in the coming weeks, but a few comments:

  • Study. The school committee has hired Flansburgh Architects ( to conduct a thorough evaluation of all aspects of both elementary schools. That study is currently underway and should be complete by the end of February. Results will not only be shared with the public, but will inform the towns and the school committee on the state of the buildings and any likely minor or major maintenance or renovations that are needed in the coming years.
  • Phase 2. It was always the intent of the high school building committee to upgrade the athletic facility. It was removed from the scope due to cost concerns - the Massachusetts School Building Committee (MSBA), which reimbursed us for 70% of the high school cost, does not reimburse for athletic facilities. Still, it doesn't make sense to have a state of the art high school and an extremely outdated 53 year old athletic facility with many safety and regulatory issues (Americans with Disabilities Act or ADA for one) and that doesn't meet the size and needs of current athletic programs. It was built and designed for a 1964 athletic program, not a 21st century athletic program. So this is Phase 2 of the high school project and will complete an update of the entire HS campus.
  • Scope. This is a minor project compared to an elementary school project. The current estimate is under $7 million and could drop as scope is refined and other funding sources are explored. Any elementary school project will be $10s of millions, times 2 if each town retains its own school. And there is no guarantee if or when MSBA would accept our Statement of Interest (SOI). Consider the current situation in Northbridge - Currently two aging elementary schools, MSBA had no interest in a renovation-only plan of $53 million for both buildings (no MSBA reimbursement), so Northbridge submitted a plan to build one new combined elementary school for $105 million, $58 million in cost to the town, for 1030 students K-5. We currently have about 925 K-5 students, so not very different enrollment. Every project is different, but any elementary school project will be much, much greater in cost and complexity than this athletic fields project.
  • Time. Ground could be broken by Spring 2019 on an athletic field project and completed by Fall 2020. By contrast, the MSBA approval timeline for a school building takes 3-4 years just to get to the borrowing phase. Then add 2-3 years of construction. Northbridge submitted their SOI in March, 2015. They hope to go to fall 2018 town meetings to request funding. It will take them 3.5 years to get to that phase, and construction is estimated to take another 3 years. If we started on an elementary project today, the fields could be nearly 50% paid off by the time any borrowing would take place for an elementary project. We cannot wait 3-5 years or more to take on the track and athletic field upgrade while we sort out what to do about the elementary schools. Conditions will just continue to degrade and not meet the needs of the current program.
  • Cost. In addition to the very large cost of any elementary school project, both towns are currently paying off the middle school in Shirley and the high school in Ayer. It's unlikely taxpayers would take on the debt for another large school project until there is some relief from the current school debt. Also, each town is paying down debt on other non-school projects that will provide relief to help pay for a project the size of the athletic fields, but which would not provide significant relief for a much larger project like an elementary school or schools. With the middle school slated to be paid off in 2026, that may be a better time to ask the towns to take on the debt of an elementary school project. By that time, based on a 10 year pay back on the debt for the athletic fields, 7 years of the fields payback would also be complete.

Why the need for better athletic fields?

  • I don’t understand the comment that because we are small we apparently should not have a safe, modern facility. We’re not asking for anything better than anyone else around us or anywhere else in Central MA. Small school athletes also need to play on safe fields. Schools close to our size and that we play in sports have all improved their facility – Littleton (including newly renovated Alumni field with turf), Lunenburg, Clinton, Tahanto, Bromfield (town financed track and soccer field on Lancaster County Road off 111), etc.
  • The HS athletic fields are by far the oldest and worst in Central MA. The facility was built with the old HS in 1964. Other than adding a softball diamond, there have been minimal updates. The next oldest in the area is Clinton, built in 2000 with their new HS. They have all grass fields because no one shares a field. Soccer, football, baseball all have their own field. Here, soccer does not have a field. It plays and practices on the baseball outfield. They play a couple games a year on the football field in order to play a game under the lights, but we have to limit use of the football field so it is not torn up for football and youth football use. We cannot have 4 soccer teams, 2 football teams, and 3-4 youth football teams playing on one grass field. It will be destroyed. As it is, soccer destroys the baseball outfield in the fall, so in the spring the baseball team is playing on an unsafe outfield because grass does not adequately regenerate in New England before baseball season is over in mid-late May. This doesn’t happen at any other school in the area.
  • Virtually all new or renovated high school projects also fix their athletic fields. Lunenburg, North Middlesex, Littleton, Groton Dunstable, Clinton, Tahanto are all recent examples of HS projects that replaced or renovated their athletic facility. The Ayer Shirley HS building committee elected to defer athletic facility improvements so as not to over burden the taxpayer at the time of the HS project vote. They were focused on ensuring the core academic building was approved and didn’t want to introduce the risk of adding more cost with an athletic field update. Now it is time.
  • The track is 53 years old and was last resurfaced in 2005. A resurfacing is not enough. It is falling apart and we have an estimate of $400-$500k just to replace the track. However, doing that does nothing to address the inadequate and unsafe conditions and fields to support current programs and the growth in participation.
  • Nashoba Tech, which only has a small minority of Ayer and Shirley students, has a new track and football facility. It was paid for with their reserves from school choice and tuition, as well as $500k from Ayer when Ayer joined the district a few years ago (prior Ayer paid a per student tuition rather than an annual assessment as a member). The majority of Shirley and Ayer students who attend the Ayer Shirley Regional HS deserve the same level of facility.


FAQ on Turf Fields from MA department of public health

1.    What are artificial turf fields (ATFs)?

  • Artificial turf fields (ATFs) are synthetic alternatives to natural grass fields.


2.    What are ATFs composed of?

  • Components of ATFs include artificial grass fibers (blades), crumb rubber infill, and sand infill overlaid on a carpet-like backing that holds the turf together. The grass fibers are typically made of nylon, polyethylene, or polypropylene, and the crumb rubber infill used to soften the surface is most often made of recycled tires.  


3.    Are chemicals present in ATF components?

  • Yes, ATF components, such as crumb rubber infill, have been found to contain chemicals including semi-volatile organic compounds (including polyaromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs), volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and metals.  


4.    Have studies been done to determine if ATFs impact health?

  • Several studies evaluating potential exposure opportunities to constituents  in  ATFs have been conducted by state (e.g., California, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut)   and federal agencies (e.g., U.S. Environmental Protection Agency), as well as academic researchers (e.g., Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical Center).  


5.    How have these studies evaluated exposure opportunities at ATFs?

  • The studies that have been conducted measured concentrations of chemicals in the air above ATFs as well as in the components of the ATFs. In addition, some studies have evaluated the potential for these chemicals to actually enter the body and reach a susceptible organ (e.g., bioavailability studies).  


6.  How do public health agencies evaluate whether exposure can result in health effects?

  • Public health agencies evaluate concentrations measured in studies and compare them to well-established, health-based standards or guidelines (developed through comprehensive research by federal or state governments) or they conduct evaluations using standard risk assessment methods to estimate health risks from environmental exposures.


7.  What is a risk assessment?

  • The term “risk assessment” refers to a process of assessing and evaluating the potential health effects that may result from an environmental exposure. Risk assessments take into consideration information about the toxicity of a contaminant, the estimated amount of contaminant that someone may be exposed to, the sensitivity of an individual to the contaminant (e.g., children are generally more sensitive to environmental contaminants than healthy adults), and other factors.


8.  What assumptions have been used in risk assessments done for ATFs?

  • Exposure assumptions that have been used include assuming someone plays on the field for 3-5 hours a day, 4-5 days a week, 8-12 months a year, and 12 (child) to 30 years (adult). Such assumptions are designed to be conservative and consider worst- case scenarios.


9.  What do the available studies that have been conducted on exposure opportunities to ATFs and health impacts show?

  • Although exhaustive research has not been completed, the available studies have shown that although ATF components contain chemicals in the material itself, exposure opportunities at levels measured do not suggest that health effects are likely.


10.  What are the findings of studies that evaluated exposure opportunities based on measurements of constituents (e.g., in air, dust) at ATFs?

  • Results of samples taken at or above (e.g., air) ATFs and analyzed for VOCs, SVOCs, metals, and particulate matter that can be inhaled into the lungs suggested that adverse health effects were unlikely to occur. These include studies conducted by the Connecticut Health Department, the New York State Health Department, and the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard and Assessment.


11.  What are the findings of studies that have evaluated ingestion or inhalation of, and/or skin contact with constituents in ATFs?

  • The Rutgers study evaluated whether exposures to SVOCs or metals in ATF components might suggest exposures of health concern via ingestion, inhalation, or dermal contact. They concluded that overall the opportunities for exposure to constituents in these fields presented very low risk among all populations that would use ATFs. Authors of a study in the Netherlands reported that results of urine testing indicted that uptake of PAHs among participants, following playing on an ATF with crumb rubber infill, was minimal.


12.  What were the findings of the Rutgers study with respect to lead?

  • The Rutgers researchers found that lead concentrations in one of seven ATFs tested could potentially result in blood lead levels above the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reference value for blood lead in young children (5 ug/dL). It should be noted, however, that the lead concentration in the materials used in this study included a sample of turf fiber with a lead concentration of 4,400 mg/kg, well above the US Consumer Product Safety and Improvement Act limit for lead content in children’s products of 100 mg/kg.


13.  Do all ATFs have lead?

  • No. Some ATFs are constructed with components that are certified as having no or low lead content. Use of ATF components that meet the Consumer Product Safety and Improvement Act limit of 100 ppm for lead in children’s products would minimize exposure opportunities to lead.


14.  What are the findings of studies that evaluated exposures to bacteria?

  • The California Office of Environmental Health Hazard and Assessment tested for bacterial contamination at both natural grass fields and ATFs. They found fewer bacteria detected on artificial turf compared to natural turf, and therefore less likely to result in infection risks to athletes using ATFs that may have skin abrasions.


15.  Have epidemiological studies been conducted to determine if ATF exposures are associated with the occurrence of cancer in children?

  • Some recent media reports have raised concerns about the possible association between playing on ATFs and the development of cancers. It is important to note that the types of cancers reported are among those that have been more prevalent in children for many years. To date, no epidemiologic studies have evaluated the occurrence of cancer among athletes or others who play on ATFs.


16.  How common is it for children to get cancer?

  • Although cancer is much less common among children than older adults, unfortunately 1 in 285 children in the U.S. will be diagnosed with cancer before the age of 20.  Leukemia is the most common cancer diagnosed in children and teens, accounting for almost 1 out of 3 cancers in this age group. From 1975 to 2010, the overall incidence of pediatric cancer in the U.S. increased slightly, by an average of 0.6 percent per year.



17.  Has the potential for the development of cancer been assessed using standard risk assessment methods for exposure opportunities associated with ATFs?

  • Several studies, including those conducted by officials in New York City, New York State, Connecticut, California, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and Norway, have conducted cancer risk assessments based on opportunities for exposures at ATFs. These evaluations were based on testing results from different kinds of fields under a variety of weather and use conditions. These risk assessment studies all indicate that the use of ATFs is not associated with elevated cancer risk.


18.  Does MDPH endorse the use of ATFs?

  • No, MDPH does not endorse any particular consumer product, including ATFs. MDPH routinely evaluates whether exposure opportunities to constituents in consumer products may pose health concerns and provides information to put risk in perspective.


19.  What other exposure concerns have been raised about ATFs?

  • Concerns have been expressed in relation to the increased temperature of fields as outdoor temperatures rise. For these reasons, fields may be frequently watered to cool the surface, and athletes should increase hydration and take frequent breaks to reduce the potential for burns or heat stress.


20.  Are there steps that can be taken to reduce exposure opportunities to ATF components? 

  • Yes. MDPH recommends common sense steps to minimize potential exposures to chemicals that may be present, such as washing hands after playing on a field and before eating (particularly for younger children with frequent hand-to-mouth activity) and taking off shoes before entering the house to prevent tracking in any crumb rubber particles.


21.  Who should I contact for more information?

  • If you have any questions about ATFs and health, you may contact the following: Environmental Toxicology Program

Bureau of Environmental Health Massachusetts Department of Public Health
250 Washington Street, 7th Floor
Boston, MA 02108



In the News and Social Media...

nashoba publishing-naming rights may offset field costs 3/30/2018

AYER -- School officials are eyeing an updated athletics complex to match the modern building at Ayer Shirley Regional High School.

The $6.75 million project was the focus of a Monday Nashoba Valley Chamber of Commerce breakfast and tour at the high school.

"If we're spending that money let's make sure that it helps everyone," said School Committee Vice Chair Jonathan Deforge.

The plan, which was approved by the committee in January, is to expand the track to eight lanes, put in synthetic turf for the football field, add additional soccer fields, and relocate the softball field. In addition to field improvements, the project proposes new bleachers, lighting, a concessions stand, and bathrooms.

Athletic facilities were not part of the high school's 2012 renovation plans. Field upgrades would not have been reimbursed by the Massachusetts School Building Authority.

The committee plans to bring the project to Fall Town Meeting. Ayer and Shirley voters would need to approve a 10-year debt exclusion to fund the project.

To help offset some of the cost for taxpayers, the district will sell naming rights for the athletic facilities. It will be $750,000 to name the entire complex. Individual parts, such as the stadium would cost $350,000.

Chair Dan Gleason hopes that the upgraded fields can help expand the school's sports programs.

He led attendees on a tour of the athletic facilities and pointed where some of the upgrades would be made.

The high school currently has a football field, track, baseball diamond, softball diamond, and a practice field.

Soccer is one of the school's most popular sports, but the school doesn't have a dedicated soccer field. The four teams use the practice fields.

The project would also ensure that the fields are safe for students to play on, allow for simultaneous games, and offer a better fan experience, Deforge said.

Of all the athletic facilities, the track is in need of the most repair. Fixing it would have triggered the need for other updates, like bleachers that are accessible for people disabilities, that can cost more than $1 million.

The School Committee decided it would be better to upgrade the fields and track at once, Deforge said.

District Superintendent Mary Malone showed breakfast attendees around the high school.

The tour went through the auditorium, band room, and art wing. The group also visited several classrooms where guitar class, ceramics, and graphic design were going on.

Athletics Director Jon Sweeney showed business leaders the gymnasium and weight room.

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Nashoba Publishing Article-ASRHS has need for fields as student successes increase 3/23/2018

This letter is in response to a letter from W.R. Johnson of Ayer titled "$7 million for ASRHS? What about the elementary schools?" published in the March 2 edition of the Nashoba Valley Voice.

The author's opening point regarding high school MCAS scores is demonstrably false. The claim is MCAS scores have gone down since the new high school was built.

The percentage of students scoring Proficient or Advanced is the figure most generally cited when the press and public discuss MCAS scores. Using that measure, 2017 MCAS scores, the most recent, were among the highest since the region was formed.

* English Language Arts (ELA) - 97 percent (prior high score 97 percent in 2014)

* Math 87 percent (prior high score 88 percent in 2013)

* Science 83 percent (prior high score 85 percent in 2013)

Also, those scores significantly exceeded the overall state aggregate scores for 2017.

From 2016-2017:

* ELA Increased Advanced and Proficient by 8 percent

* Math Increased Advanced and Proficient by 13 percent

* Science increased Advanced and Proficient by 4 percent

Regarding the elementary schools, in January the school committee hired Flansburg Architects to do a complete study of the infrastructure at both elementary schools. This study will be complete by the end of the month.

At that time, we will schedule public forums to review the results.

Among the results will be a list of suggested repairs with cost estimates. District administration will review the repairs and costs in the context of time, budget, and the possibility of elementary school projects in the next several years, and come up with a repair implementation plan.

It's a false comparison, however, to compare the proposed athletic facility project to an elementary school project and to suggest you do one or the other.

First, most high school projects include new or upgraded athletic facilities. In our immediate area alone, Lunenburg, Littleton, Groton-Dunstable, and North Middlesex all built new fields with their new or renovated high schools. Lunenburg, Littleton, and G-D are all on their second round of athletic field improvements -- a synthetic turf field and new softball diamond in Littleton, two new grass fields, a track resurfacing, and an existing synthetic turf field upgrade in Lunenburg, and a synthetic turf field replacing grass at GD.

Even Nashoba Tech has a new track and synthetic turf field, paid for by surplus reserve funds and Ayer's $500,000 capital debt buy-in to the NVTHS district several years ago. The relatively few Ayer and Shirley athletes that attend NVTHS get to play at a state-of-the-art facility, but the majority of Ayer and Shirley high school athletes who remain in ASRHS cannot even have an adequate facility?

Meanwhile ASRHS has the worst outdoor high school athletic facility in Central Massachusetts, built in 1964 with minimal updates other than a softball diamond.

When ASRHS was renovated, the building committee pulled an athletic field upgrade from the project to ensure the success of the project to improve the high school academic facility. The communities were just emerging from the recession and the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) does not reimburse for outdoor athletic facilities. The athletic field cost would have been borne 100 percent by the taxpayers. So the outdoor piece, built in 1964, was deferred, but it desperately needs to be upgraded.

Second, the MSBA's process is cumbersome and time consuming, but the reward is they pay a significant portion of the cost of a school building project. ASRSD, the towns, and MSBA need to be partners in a process that can take 5-8 years. If you look at current or recent elementary school projects on the MSBA web site or in the news, you'll see that elementary school projects are running $30 million to $100 million per school depending on project size and scope.

There is no comparison of scope and cost of this field project compared to an elementary school project (or two). 

The author's last point is that the project is simply not needed due to the school's size. Students at smaller schools do not deserve safe and adequate facilities? ASRHS competes with Lunenburg and Littleton in sports. Many other smaller schools we compete with also have new or upgraded facilities from their HS projects, Clinton and Tahanto just to name a couple.

At ASRHS, soccer does not have a field, yet is the 1st or 2nd most popular sport (along with track) with approximately 70 kids participating. Soccer uses the baseball outfield as a field, and it tears it up, leaving it in poor and unsafe condition in the spring for baseball. Football has track jumping pits and iron drains on the sidelines where athletes get tackled. No other track in the area has side jumping pits, as they have been moved to D rings at the ends of the track. Our track and the pits are falling apart. The track needs to be replaced, regardless of whether or not the proposed project is approved.

Nothing is Americans with Disabilities Act compliant at the outdoor facility. We owe it to disabled and handicapped students, residents, and visitors to have an accessible facility -- minimally this means accessible bleachers and an onsite rest room facility. The proposed project will accomplish both -- for the next 50 years.

In closing, it's time the residents of Ayer and Shirley took pride in their school district rather than trying to pick it apart. I know most do. But this letter, plus the recent one on the high school Chromebook project, and online comments to a story about this project in Nashoba Valley Voice, are not only inaccurate, but very disappointing and discouraging.

What's happened at this high school and in the communities since regionalization and the high school project is nothing short of remarkable -- US News Best High Schools rankings, more AP courses and strong AP test results, vastly improved college acceptances, a world class robotics team, enhanced art and music classes, and more extracurricular programs like mock trial, drama, and athletic programs.

Increased property values in both towns are another example of an improvement at least partially due to the improvements in the school district. Everyone should be very proud.

The last two weeks alone we've had a mock trial team compete in the state tournament, a robotics team win the Engineering Inspiration award at their recent competition; drama students who won several awards at the Massachusetts Educational Theater Guild (METG) competition in Weston; and a student was accepted into Georgia Tech, one of the finest engineering colleges in the world. Athletically, the indoor track team won district and state titles (a school first) and a co-op hockey team with Lunenburg won districts and competed for a state title after this letter was written.

Thank you to all of the taxpayers, students, teachers, parents, administrators, town officials, and volunteers who have made this into an exceptional school district. It could not have been done without your support. We have more to do. A new athletic facility for the high school and a plan to renovate or replace the elementary schools are two significant examples. With your continued support we will get these done and keep this district moving forward.

Dan Gleason, chairman

Ayer Shirley Regional School Committee

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141 Washington Street | Phone: 978-772-8600
1 Hospital Rd | Phone: (978) 772-8600
115 Washington Street | Phone: (978) 772-8600
34 Lancaster Road | Phone: (978) 772-8600