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Click to Learn More About the Proposed ASRHS Fields Project

Frequently Asked Questions:

1. What are the critical safety issues that need to be addressed ASAP? What is the minimum cost to remediate those issues?

We have put the safety issues forward over the last three years, including:

  • The track surface has deteriorated in multiple lanes, rendering usable for practice only;

  • The outfield of the baseball field is not wide enough to accommodate a varsity soccer field unless part of the clay infield is utilized, meaning players must navigate a change in playing surface as part of the field of play;

  • Due to use of the baseball field outfield for baseball in the spring and soccer in the fall, there is no suitable time to “rest” the field and allow for proper grass regeneration, creating an inconsistent playing surface for athletes in both sports;

  • The main stadium field (also referred to as the Norton Field) has dirt jumping pits, asphalt run-ups, and cast iron storm drains directly adjacent to the field of play; additionally as this is a natural turf field use must be limited to preserve the field condition for games;

  • The bleachers and press box are inaccessible by disabled persons;

  • There is no running water to the current concession facility.

Costs for each facet of the project are included in the attached presentation generated by Activitas in the summer of 2020, and recently presented to both the Finance Committee and Board of Selectmen. 

While the district was able to regrade and reseed the lower practice facility as a separate project two years ago, the remaining elements are intertwined and to piecemeal upgrades would result in duplicated costs (project manager, mobilization of equipment and site preparation, and contingency) and prolonged disruption to the athletic programs and campus as a whole. In addition to the athletic programs, students at the high school and Page Hilltop school use the athletic facilities for physical education and other programs, while community members and youth leagues also make use of the facilities.

2. What are the accessibility issues that need to be addressed? What is the minimum cost to remediate those issues?

Please see the attached letter from the Massachusetts Architectural Access Board (MAAB) on the accessibility issues and what remediation steps the district needs to take. In the short term, the MAAB has allowed the district to cordon off the noncompliant areas from use until a renovation. 

The MAAB develops and enforces regulations designed to make public buildings accessible to, functional for, and safe for use by persons with disabilities.

 

3. A study of the elementary school buildings was done 3 years ago. What actions have been taken on that study? 

The purpose of the study was to determine whether the two elementary schools are safe for occupancy which the study confirmed. This field project has been going on for three years and during that time the same questions on the elementary schools were raised and hence the district conducted an assessment of the buildings to determine safety. Yes, the buildings are old, but they are safe and we have completed many repairs and upgrades so students have the same learning opportunities, specifically in technology infrastructure, as those students in the high school and middle school. The district continues to take actions at both elementary schools, through the annual budget as well as capital expenditures approved by the school committee. 

 

4. Has the MA School Building Administration been consulted about that study?

The district would not contact the MSBA on the results of the study. Formal interaction with the MSBA begins when the school committee votes to submit a Statement of Interest (SOI) for a new, renovated school building or accelerated repair plan. The MSBA has information on its repair, renovation, and replacement programs on its website, https://www.massschoolbuildings.org

Please note that a district is under no obligation to use the MSBA for repair, renovation, or replacement programs; however not using the MSBA would eliminate any state funding or reimbursement, shifting the full cost of the project to local taxpayers.

 

5. What is the 5 year/10 year/15 year plan for renovating/replacing those two buildings?

This is a school committee decision/plan, in consultation with the Superintendent of Schools and Director of Facilities. At this time, the school committee as a whole has not developed a long term plan for renovating or replacing the elementary schools. 

The Regional Agreement, as currently enacted, calls for an elementary school building in each member town. The Regional Agreement also dictates the debt payments attributable to an elementary school will be, “...assessed entirely to the town in which the school is located .. so long as less than 15% of the total resident enrollment resides in the non-host town,” and goes on to detail how debt is shared if the 15% threshold is exceeded. 

In recent years, Town of Ayer leadership has shown much interest in renovating or replacing the Page Hilltop School. If the Town of Ayer and the SC were to move forward in submitting a SOI to the MSBA in 2022, and got accepted into the MSBA program, it is at least 5 years from 2022 to have the project complete and for the taxpayers to begin paying for the new building. Under this scenario and the terms of the Regional Agreement, a new elementary school in Ayer would not be a cost to the taxpayers in Shirley. Likewise, should Shirley be interested in, and selected for an elementary school project, taxpayers of Ayer would not be burdened with additional cost. 

Historically, the scope of SOI’s submitted to the MSBA on a yearly basis has far outweighed the funding available from the MSBA. While the scenario above implies acceptance on the first attempt, there is no guarantee of acceptance in the first submission. In 2019, 61 SOI’s were submitted by 51 districts, with 11 SOI’s being invited to the next stage of the MSBA process. Once a district’s Statement of Interest is selected, it is often 1-2 more years before construction actually begins. For further clarification, a district can submit multiple proposals, but must prioritize one; additionally a district can only have one active MSBA project at a time. 

What I have presented are possible scenarios to provide you a sense of how MSBA operates, and the time it takes to bring a building project to completion. As you know, the debt attributed to previous projects would continue to decrease during the time period while the Statement of Interest was being submitted and evaluated, and during the early years of planning and design of a building project. 

 

6. If no long term plan is in place, does that mean that the School District is certain that no major renovation/replacement will be initiated in the next 10 years?

This is a question for the school committee as a whole, but as you can see from the above timelines and getting into the pipeline for MSBA, we are looking at a 7-10 year gap, at a minimum, when no new debt would be issued to the taxpayers in either town for a substantial elementary school project. 

 

7. If the Town votes to support a debt exclusion for the Field Project, will the School District commit to not moving forward on any major renovation/replacement project for the two elementary schools until the loans for the Field Project and High School project are paid off?

This is another question for the school committee as a whole, but again, I think the timelines for any new or renovated elementary school are 7-10 years from the point of submitting an SOI, getting into the pipeline, completing construction, and closing out the project. In the case of the high school project, the district was selected in early 2010 to be invited into the MSBA pipeline, and the final closeout of the project took place in late 2017.

As noted previously, the MSBA has not opened a SOI period for 2021 and at this time the school committee has not discussed or voted to pursue actions related to a SOI. 

The current debt attributable to the school district is as follows:

  • Middle School debt is scheduled to be paid off in 2026;

  • High School debt is scheduled to be paid off in 2034; and

  • The proposed fields project debt would be scheduled to be paid off in 2036 or 2037.

The school committee needs to work with leaders in both member towns to balance the debt attributable to the schools and its expiration, the member towns’ total debt obligations, the building needs of the district, and the MSBA timelines should the school committee elect to pursue a MSBA funded program.

 

8. Having the vote be turned down multiple times, have we spoken with the Shirley residents on why this keeps happening?

We have spoken with residents who were not supportive of the project, and the following themes emerged:

  • The cost of the project and the impact to the average taxpayer was too large;

  • The use of a synthetic turf field surface on Norton Field; and

  • The project being located in Ayer, and/or no components being located in Shirley.

We have worked multiple times to reduce the scale of the project to attempt to make it more palatable from a cost standpoint. Comparing the original 2018 proposal and the current proposal, we find a significant savings in both overall cost and average taxpayer cost. 

It is important to understand this proposed plan was developed in collaboration with Shirley town officials to create a project they felt their town could afford. 

Year

Estimated Project Cost

Average Single Family Home Value

Estimated Average Yearly Tax Impact

Estimated Average 15 Year Total Cost

2018

$7,100,000

$292,655

$113.00

$1695.00

2021

$5,274,648

$309,200

$79.81

$1197.15

 

The proposed project is scaled down to the minimum components, while still addressing safety and accessibility concerns and eliminating duplicate costs and disruptions to the campus.

We understand that there are concerns surrounding the use of synthetic turf for playing fields, however at this time we feel that the increased playing time, consistent surface, and decreased maintenance costs make the use of a synthetic turf field more advantageous. Ayer Shirley is not alone in the area, state, or country in installing a synthetic turf playing field. Additionally we are working with Activitas to determine the most appropriate choice of infill - another point of concern for some - to ensure the safety of all participants who use the field. 

In regards to location, our Athletic Director and coaches have stressed repeatedly the desire for the athletic programs to remain on campus. In initial discussions with both member towns, there was hesitation to share existing facilities out of concern for overuse and overlapping time commitments. Finally, as prescribed by the leases currently in effect between the district and member towns, the campus in Ayer is fully controlled and maintained by the district whereas the land around the Middle School and Lura A. White School is controlled and maintained by the Town of Shirley, or other organizations (Shirley Youth Baseball, Ayer Shirley Youth Football, Shirley Fields Committee). We do not want to burden other programs or departments in our member towns when we are capable of maintaining all athletic programs on campus in our current design. 

At this time, we have multiple subpar athletic facilities. This is in my opinion, catastrophic for the students, faculty, and the residents. Great schools create vibrant and thriving communities. I have had a number of people who are considering moving to Ayer and Shirley contact me over the years on the state of education in the towns. The quality of education is first on anyone’s list in their decision to move to a new community, and the high school building committee’s commitment to education removed athletic field costs from the high school project to improve the likelihood of the project being approved by taxpayers. However, we are now six years post high school completion, and the athletic facilities have had little improvement. They are over fifty years old and have served their purpose. We must do the right thing and finish the high school project.

For questions or more information, please contact Michelle Towne, at 978-772-8600, extension 1508, or mtowne@asrsd.org.

Click here for the PowerPoint presented at the Public Forum

CLICK HERE TO VIEW ASRSD FIELD PROJECT SHIRLEY COMMUNITY FORUM HELD ON APRIL 28, 2021

Click here for the Complaint filed against the ASRHS fields

Click here for the Resolution to the complaint filed against the ASRHS fields

Virtual Tour of the Current State of the ASRHS Athletic Fields

Virtual Public Informational Session: Wednesday, April 28 - 6:30pm

Click HERE for instructions on how to login to the Zoom meeting

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