By Bill Cantwell
---- — Voters have yet to decide whether to build a new school to replace the deteriorated Hunking School.
The vote will not happen until June.
However, you wouldn’t know that based on escalating behind-the-scenes work being done by Haverhill leaders.
The city has hired a company to direct construction of the new school. Shawmut Design and Construction of Boston will run the job and was chosen because of its experience building schools to specifications required by the state, local officials said.
Shawmut Design and Construction has directed construction of several schools housing students in kindergarten through upper grades, the kind of building planned by Haverhill. The company also has a strong safety record, which is important because the new school will be built next to the existing Hunking, meaning many people, including students and neighbors, will be close by, Superintendent James Scully said.
“We wanted to select a firm that had a proven track record of success, with minimal change orders ... was available in the time frame needed, and accessible when it comes to understanding our needs, and this company is known for that,’’ Scully said. “Also we have a tight budget and we want to deliver a good product at the lowest cost possible. And safety is important, as we’ll have 500 kids in close proximity to the construction site.
“We wanted to make sure the company we selected understands that this site needs to work, meaning, the site is narrow and there are challenges and this company had the best approach to achieving the goal,’’ he said. “One of the issues we stressed was safety, and not inconveniencing neighbors with dust and dirt. And this company showed us that they can deliver.”
Voter approval is needed for the project if Haverhill is to get state money to pay about two thirds of the construction cost. If voters approve the plan, the city must pay the rest.
Scully said it is important for Haverhill to have all aspects of the project lined up before the vote so, if the school is approved by residents, construction can start immediately and at a reasonable cost.
“I’ve been told by the people estimating this project, and because of the change in the economy, every six-month delay will cost us about $500,000 in increased construction costs,” he said. “We’re trying to keep this on a fast track scheduled to deliver it at the lowest possible cost to taxpayers.”
In late 2011, experts discovered structural problems that threatened to make part of the Hunking building collapse. That forced the city to move 150 students to another Haverhill school.
Repairs have since been made to the Hunking, allowing the students to move back, but officials said the building can only be used for a few more years. The Hunking was built in 1959.
Scully said Shawmut Design and Construction was the choice of all members of Haverhill’s Hunking School Building Committee because of the company’s track record in meeting tight budgets and working on projects supported by state money.
Shawmut Design and Construction official Tim Hurdelbrink said the company has worked on eight or nine kindergarten-through-12th-grade schools. Haverhill’s new school would have kindergarten through grade eight.
Hurdelbrink said the $900-million company, which is owned by its employees, is strong in the areas of logistics, estimating and meeting budget, and has an exemplary safety record. Scully said the company’s safety record is important because students, staff, parents and visitors will be on site during construction.
The School Building Committee approved the contract with the company and made moved $40,000 available for an initial payment to the company as it begins work.
The city is about halfway through a review process that leads to construction money from the state. The project team JCJ Architecture and Joslin, Lesser + Associates have a six-week window to complete the design and create a preliminary budget to submit to the state. The final state decision on the project is expected June 4.
The city has preliminary plans for a special election on June 10 for the debt exclusion vote.
Mayor James Fiorentini said the proposed debt exclusion would not actually increase taxes because current payments on the debt for two elementary schools built about 20 years ago are about to expire. He said the plan is to continue those payments for another 20 years to pay for the Hunking replacement. Taxpayers, however, still must vote to extend those payments, which currently amount to $67 a year for the average single-family homeowner, he said.
Groundbreaking on the project could happen by July 1 and is expected to take two to three years, officials said.
Yet another safety problem emerged earlier this month at the Hunking. Heavy, wet snow threatened to collapse part of the building’s roof, school officials said. But students were out of harm’s way because of February vacation.
On the recommendation of structural engineers, Scully ordered the roof over the north wing of the building cleared of snow.