For voters like Julie Stuart, of Bridgewater, an $8.3 million renovation of Shepaug Valley School is a good investment only if the Region 12 school population grows, or at least doesn't shrink further.

A statistician hired by the school district, Peter Prowda, predicts that total enrollment in the region, now lower than at any time since 1957, will continue shrinking over the next decade, from 796 to as few as 460 students.

"I have mixed feelings," Stuart said. "Some of the work is necessary. The science labs need upgrades and the cosmetic work on the mall would be a real morale-booster.

"But I'm not sure the leadership is in place that can make the changes necessary to assure Dr. Prowda's predictions don't come true," she continued. "Spending $8 million if the region isn't going to continue doesn't make sense."

Voters rejected the renovations on April 29, when they were packaged with a plan to consolidate elementary schools in the three towns that make up Region 12: Bridgewater, Roxbury and Washington.

Stung by that failure, the school board removed the consolidation plan and scheduled a new vote June 17 on the renovations alone. If the renovations are not made, members argued, the district's accreditation could be jeopardized when the New England Association of Schools & Colleges evaluates the school next year.

"You've got to update the facility," board member Peter Tagley said. "You can't leave the school in its present 1970s status. You have to have some part of your educational structure modernized, or families aren't going to move into the region."

The renovations at Shepaug Valley, which includes the middle and high schools, would include a $1 million replacement/upgrade of the science labs, improvement of the heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems, a new entrance atrium, replacement of the bleachers and lighting improvements for the site.

Tagley wondered whether voters realize how outdated the facilities are.

"Maybe we should have had people come in and tour the school," he said.

The only hope of preventing a further decline in enrollment, he added, is to make these renovations.

"If all we have to offer is deteriorating facilities, brokers are going to steer potential buyers away from our towns, directing them to parts of the state with modern educational facilities," Tagley said.

Superintendent Pat Cosentino agreed.

"It is important that Shepaug Valley School shines to attract families to the region," she said. "We have to keep it the shining jewel in the valley."

Polls will be open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. June 17 in Bridgewater, Roxbury and Washington. "I encourage everyone to vote and hope they will vote in favor," said board Chairman Jim Hirschfield. "We've got a lot of work to do and have to get this work done."

stuz@newstimes.com; 860-355-7322