$2.9M expansion project would help meet Valley Tech demand; $2.9M project proposed for vocational school.

Byline: Mary MacDonald

UPTON -- Prompted by increased demand for its programs, Blackstone Valley Regional Vocational Technical High School has proposed a two-story addition that will allow it to offer three new programs, and recapture students who are leaving the area to attend tech schools in adjoining districts.

If approved, the $2.9 million expansion would eventually add 200 more students to the vocational high school, which has nearly 1,200 students. The new programs would enroll 50 more students a year in animal science, engineering technology, and legal and protective services.

The construction would reconfigure existing space for three new labs. In addition, a 5,400 square-foot, two-story addition would include six classrooms, to be placed within an existing courtyard.

The proposed expansion is rooted in demand, but in some towns, officials are concerned that the growth of Valley Tech will affect local budgets. Beyond the capital expense of adding labs and classrooms to the regional school, member towns could also be affected by the enrollment increases.

The towns make an annual payment to Valley Tech when local students attend the vocational school instead of their hometown high school, based on a state formula. In addition, because state funding follows students, the local high school would lose some state aid based on enrollment. Given tight local budgets, the potential for a 16 percent enrollment boost at Valley Tech is a concern for some officials.

Millbury selectmen recently said they are worried the vocational school was taking top students and resources from Millbury High School. In Sutton, where some 20 teachers have been laid off in recent years because of town budget cuts, the town pays about $11,000 a year for each local student attending Valley Tech, said Jeffrey Bannon, chairman of the Finance Committee.

"For us, there is concern about the debt itself,'' Mr. Bannon said. "There's a bigger concern about what it will do to our budget down the road.''

The Sutton Finance Committee will make a recommendation April 16. The expansion request will go to annual town meeting May 12.

To avoid a sudden impact to towns, the vocational school plans to phase in the new programs and students over six to eight years, said Valley Tech Superintendent-Director Michael Fitzpatrick.

The expansion is spurred by continued demand for seats at Valley Tech. Nearly half of the eighth-graders in the 13-town district applied for admission in 2014...

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