hgazette.com, Haverhill, MA

December 5, 2013

Vote on new school delayed to mid-2014

Voters were to decide by April, but state wants drawings changed


---- — Voters will go to the polls later than expected to decide whether the city will build a new school in Bradford.

Local leaders have repeatedly said they expected the vote to be in March or April, but now Superintendent James Scully says it will likely be delayed to May or June.

He said the delay is because state education officials want the city’s architects to refine parts of their drawings of the school. That will give the state greater detail about the plan before it approves paying about two-thirds of the cost.

“We had to change the footprint a bit,’’ Scully said. “It will bring a month- or two-month delay.’’

The superintendent said that delay will not keep Haverhill from building the school in time to replace the crumbling Hunking School — as long as Haverhill voters approve paying their share of the cost.

“As long as we can keep it on track from here, we should be OK,’’ Scully said, adding that if voters approve the project, construction will likely start in the summer or fall of next year.

In late 2011, the city closed part of Hunking School and moved about 150 students to another building due to structural problems in the foundation that threatened to collapse part of Hunking, school officials said. Repairs have since been made, but the building is expected to be usable for only four more years.

The structural problems are believed to be related to the fact the building was built in the 1950s on filled wetlands, which led many to believe the current site might not be appropriate for a new or renovated building. A new engineering analysis appears to put those concerns to rest. the new Hunking would be build on fields next to the existing school.

The estimated cost of the new school is $50 million to $60 million, officials have said.

Mayor James Fiorentini said when voters to the polls, they will not be asked to increases taxes to pay for Haverhill’s share of the cost. Instead, they will be asked to continue paying taxes at the same rate they have for the last 20 years while covering the cost of schools that Haverhill built two decades ago. The cost of those schools was scheduled to be removed from bills soon.

Scully said he and other supporters of building the new school to replace Hunking will have to convince voters it is the best way to go.

“The burden is really on us,’’ he said. “You want people to see what they’re buying. People have to be comfortable. People would like to see taxes diminished.’’

Scully said Haverhill must seize the opportunity to build the school with the state’s financial help while Haverhill has some control over the process.

“It’s better to pay for this now than to get it jammed down our throats the wrong way,’’ he said. “The time is now. We don’t want to lose this opportunity.’’

The school would house students from kindergarten to grade eight — an arrangement Scully said is best for students and financially sound for the community.

“I use this comparison: When you go to the same doctor, he knows your history and is best able to treat you,’’ Scully said. “With the many challenges children face today, it’s nice to know the principal and for your principal to know you. Moving kids around every two years doesn’t make sense.’’