By Mike LaBella
---- — It’s been 12 years since Nettle Middle School was rebuilt with $17 million from the state.
But state officials say it’s still looking and acting like it did when the job was completed.
What is the secret to keeping Nettle in such good shape when other public buildings sometimes deteriorate in the period of a decade and then need major repairs?
The key is jumping on small problems before they become big ones, school officials said.
Whether it’s a leaky roof or a leaky boiler, problems at the Nettle are quickly fixed, officials said. It’s part of the school’s successful maintenance program that keeps it looking and operating like new 12 years after its reconstruction.
The Nettle was recently visited by David Troughton, regional assistance director for the Northeast District & School Assistance Center at the state’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. Troughton told Nettle Principal Mike Rossi that he was impressed with the condition of the school, which appeared to be “like new,” he said.
“The school secretary took me from the front office to the library and the library was spacious,” Troughton said. “A staff meeting was underway in the library and groups of teachers were working at tables throughout the library. I saw attractive displays of student work and there was an obvious pride in the school. The dismissal was orderly. Despite the snow and cold weather, the walkways were shoveled and sand was in place on icy spots.”
Troughton’s center helps communities and their schools use professional development to improve instruction and raise achievement for students.
Tom Geary, supervisor of facilities for Haverhill schools, said the key to keeping Nettle and other school buildings in good shape is keeping an eye out for problems and reporting them immediately.
Geary said Nettle custodians follow specific building maintenance procedures that include periodic inspections of roofs, basements, heating and cooling systems, windows, doors and the grounds. He said they look for deficiencies such as a door that isn’t working properly, a roof that’s leaking and inoperative lighting fixtures.
“If something is of an urgent nature that impacts the operation of the school, we have a 24-hour-a-day answering service,” Geary said. “Say there’s an electrical problem. The custodian would call the answering service and they would dispatch an electrician immediately.”
He said the city has licensed trades people on staff. They are electrician and maintenance coordinator Bill Evans, plumber Steve Gigliotti, HVAC specialist Joe Gauron, and general carpenter Mike Hoffman. They are on call at all times, he said.
“This allows us to quickly respond to any repairs that are necessary, as opposed to contracting out the majority of repairs,” Geary said.
Regular maintenance includes cleaning and lubricating HVAC systems and replacing air filters twice a year.
Geary said a custodian at Nettle was recently inspecting the building’s boiler system when he noticed that a hot water circulating pump was leaking. Geary said the maintenance department was notified and the pump was quickly replaced by Gauron and Gigliotti.
“If it wasn’t addressed immediately, we would not have been able to heat the building,” Geary said.
When an air circulation unit in Nettle’s gymnasium began making noise, the daytime custodian called it in. Geary said Gauron and Evans replaced the unit’s fan belts and lubricated bearings and other moving parts.
“If these systems aren’t regularly lubricated and serviced, it can turn into a more expensive problem if we have to replace these units,” Geary said.
Keeping buildings clean and uncluttered also helps, Geary said.
“If areas are clean, you can more easily spot problems and address them,” he said.
The School Department also has an on-call private roofing contractor who can respond to problems such as a leaky roof within 48 hours of it being reported.
“We recently had to call them for the Consentino School, which had various roof leaks,” Geary said.
The Nettle renovation project began in 1998 to make it computer friendly and handicapped-accessible, with double the number of classrooms as the original building. Students entered the rebuilt school in January 2001, after spending two years at St. James School on Primrose Street while the Nettle work was done.
The Nettle’s condition is in stark contrast to that of Hunking School, which is so badly deteriorated that it must be replaced, school officials said.