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COMMUNITY PROFILE

Auburn's prices, location a plus for many, but schools are an issue

By Thomas Grillo, Globe Correspondent, 3/30/2002

AUBURN - For more than a decade, residents of this town in south central Massachusetts have debated whether to build a new $40 million high school or renovate the old one.

But which Beacon Hill facing a budget crunch, the state's school construction reimbursement has been reduced by 7 percentage points, forcing taxpayers to pick up more of the costs.

   
 AT A GLANCE

Incorporated: 1837
Distance from Boston: 45 miles
Population: 15,879
Tax rate per $1,000: $13.08 residential, $23.87 commercial
Government: representative town meeting, five selectmen
Median home price: $195,000
Public schools: Auburn High (9-12), Auburn Middle (6-8), Julia Bancroft and Pakachoag schools (3-5), Bryn Mawr (K-2), Mary D. Stone (pre-K-2)
Per-pupil expenditure: $6,133 (state average: $7,149)
Services: full-time police and fire, town water and sewers in most parts
Nearest hospital: several in Worcester

 More information on Auburn from Boston.com's Your Town section.

 
Now, tough choices await townspeople because of what the chairman of the Board of Selectmen calls "our long-delayed decision." [an error occurred while processing this directive]

"We must make school building improvements and upgrade roads as the state cuts reimbursements," says Robert Grossman. "Town Meeting will have to decide whether we need a Prop 2 [property tax] override referendum."

Incorporated in 1778, Auburn was originally named Ward, in honor of Major General Artemas Ward, commander of Colonial forces in Cambridge until George Washington took over. After mail-delivery problems developed because of the similarity of Ward and Ware, another town in Massachusetts, Ward became Auburn, in 1837.

In 1926, Robert Goddard fired a liquid propellant rocket from Pakachoag Hill in Auburn. Those early experiments were the forerunner of today's space flights.

In the 1800s, farming and industry in Auburn flourished. But Worcester's factory-based industries soon overshadowed Auburn's as residents turned to Worcester for jobs. As yarn and textile mills closed, farming remained a strong element of the local economy.

After World War II, much of the remaining agricultural land was subdivided and developed, and Auburn became home to a population that works elsewhere. Later, as major roads were built, the town added several industrial parks and shopping malls.

Since 1990, Auburn's population has grown by 6 percent. New residents are drawn to the town because of its convenient location and affordable housing stock, says Kevin Maher, of Emerson Realtors. "Just about every route in the state goes through here," he says. "And we offer very reasonable housing costs compared to our pricey neighbors in Westboro and Northboro."

Auburn has easy access to the Massachusetts Turnpike and to interstates 290 and 395, as well as to routes 12 and 20. But the highways also create traffic problems especially at intersections like those near the Auburn Mall.

Limited Amtrak service is available in neighboring Worcester; the city is also served by Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority commuter trains. And Worcester Municipal Airport offers scheduled passenger service to major airports.

But perhaps the biggest lure is the cost of a new home in Auburn. Newly built three-bedroom Colonials with 2 baths start at about $294,900. After the last housing crash, in the late 1980s, the median price for a single-family home dropped to $102,834, according to the Warren Group. Since then, the median price has climbed every year, to $153,000 at the end of 2001 and $195,000 in January. (In Greater Boston, the median price reached $461,858 last year.)

Auburn has 17 homes listed under $300,000, and 26 from $309,900 to $559,900, according to the Multiple Listing Service.

"The downside is the schools," Maher says.

In The Boston Globe's ranking of school districts, based on Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) scores, Auburn slipped to 110th of 211 districts in 2001, down from 92d in 2000.

Auburn students finished ahead of their counterparts in Millbury, Oxford, and Leicester, but some MCAS scores show cause for concern, parents say.

Among 10th-graders, 35 percent needed improvement in English, while 6 percent failed. In math, 30 percent needed improvement, and 12 percent failed. Forty-one percent of eighth-graders needed improvement in math; 27 percent failed the test, while 56 percent needed improvement in history, and 33 percent failed.

This story ran in the Boston Globe on 3/30/2002.
© Copyright 2001 Globe Newspaper Company
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