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State advances proposed Briggs Elementary project.

Byline: Paula J. Owen

ASHBURNHAM - The Massachusetts School Building Authority yesterday voted to move the proposed J.R. Briggs Elementary School project into the next phase in the process for potential funding.

The project will move into the schematic design phase, said MSBA Executive Director Katherine P. Craven.

The Ashburnham-Westminster Regional School District will work with the MSBA to produce detailed designs that will help determine the scope and budget of the project in the next few months, she said.

Ms. Craven said the MSBA had a "keen interest" in the project. state Treasurer Timothy P. Cahill, chairman of the MSBA, recently visited Briggs, she said, and found 20-year-old modular classrooms at the school in better shape than the school building itself.

"When the modulars are 20 years old and are in better shape, that's pretty bad," she said.

She said the MSBA was also concerned that classes for special needs children were being held in hallways.

The MSBA reviewed the feasibility study, said Ms. Craven, and accepted the school district's preferred solution to replace Briggs Elementary School with a new school on the same site that will serve 520 students in kindergarten through Grade 5. The new building will also have space for two prekindergarten classes.

In a special election, voters approved funding the feasibility study, which cost roughly $400,000. The school district can be reimbursed 53 percent of the cost by the MSBA.

The study investigated options including repairing the building, renovating and adding on, and building new.

After reviewing the findings of the study, the Briggs building committee recommended its preferred solution of building new on the 23-acre site on Williams Road. Members of the building committee said it was more cost effective to build new, with only $100,000 difference between that option and renovating the existing building and adding on. The estimated cost of a new 85,000-square-foot building is $24.5 million.

The proposed two-story school, officials said, would be built behind the existing building, allowing children to remain in the school during construction.

School officials said issues in the existing building, built in 1967, include health and safety concerns because of poor indoor air quality, structurally unsound conditions of portable classrooms, overcrowding, problems with heating and ventilation systems, lack of space for the special education program, limited technology resources and energy inefficiencies.

Emily Mahlman, director of communications at MSBA, said the final rate of reimbursement on the entire project will be determined in the next phase.

The rate could be between 53.5 percent and 80 percent, based on communities' ability to pay, she said. Factors including property wealth, median income and the number of students who qualify for the free or reduced lunch program, she said. Additionally, communities can qualify for incentive points that will increase the rate of reimbursement.

There are 173 projects in various phases in the state working with the MSBA for reimbursement, she said.

Three others - in Cheshire, Hopkinton and Winchester - are in the same phase as the Briggs project, she said.

Ms. Craven said the MSBA has a $2.5 billion capital budget, with its main source of funding being the state sales tax.

"Though the sales tax has been lackluster, there is money in the balance sheet to support the Briggs project," she said. "It wouldn't be in this stage if there wasn't. We have the money set aside. We're not just big talkers."

If schematic designs are approved by the MSBA when completed in the next few months, Ashburnham voters will have 120 days to approve funding the project in a special election.


CUTLINE: Briggs Elementary School in Ashburnham

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Title Annotation:LOCAL NEWS
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Jul 29, 2010
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