hgazette.com, Haverhill, MA

February 1, 2012

$200K in tweaks all that remain for 'new' Haverhill High

By Tim McCarthy
tmccarthy@hgazette.com

After eight years, $33 million, nine contractors, three superintendents and three principals, the job is done.

The Haverhill High School Renovation Committee disbanded last week following its final meeting — and left it its wake a school with a major facelift.

Some final technical tweaks remain, school officials said.

Superintendent James Scully said about $200,000 is still in the renovation project's budget. Plans are in place to use that money for technology upgrades such as wireless networks at the school.

Established in 2003 during the administration of then-Mayor John Guerin Jr., the renovation committee oversaw almost every aspect of the project — from hiring contractors to plotting out construction timetables and monitoring the budget.

"We worked hard, but we also had fun along the way," said Paul Bergman, chairman of the committee and an engineer by trade. "Everyone brought something to the table."

At times swelling to 35 members, the committee met more than 90 times during the renovation.

"It was a daunting task, trying to make something nice for (a building) so tired," said Louis Fossarelli, a committee member and former city councilor. "I'm over-the-top excited about it. We can never allow any public building as important as that to fall into the state it was in."

Throughout the fall and winter of the last academic year, the school's interior received finishing touches, with fresh coats of paint for classrooms and hallways.

"I don't think this place had a paint job since 1964," Haverhill High Principal Bernard Nangle said, noting the poor condition of several classrooms. "This is 21st century compared to what we had."

The school was built on Monument Street in the early 1960s. It replaced the old Haverhill High School on Summer Street. That building is now City Hall.

Improvements to the school over the past eight years included greater handicap accessibility, improved ventilation and electrical systems and a new parking lot.

The push for improvements came when the school was threatened with losing its accreditation by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, a private organization whose approval reflects favorably upon a school system and community.

Although no school is required by Massachusetts law to be NEASC certified, the certification projects a positive image for families interested in moving to a city and, more importantly for high school students, is recognized as an acceptance standard by many colleges.

After receiving the warning about building's poor condition, city officials and voters considered several options to save the school's accreditation, such as razing the building and constructing a new high school for $55 million, doing a complete renovation for $41 million or paying for just minimum improvements.

In 2003, the School Committee and City Council agreed to spend $27.2 million to renovate the school, with 75 percent of the bill paid by the state. The city and state eventually added $6 million to the budget in 2008 for finishing touches to the project, including the new parking lot.

Most construction was finished in September 2010.

"We did it within a tight, tight budget," said renovation committee member Ernie DiBurro, noting the Methuen High School renovation swelled to more than $100 million. "The committee worked together as a team and the outcome is obvious."

Nangle said there was enough money left over for some creative touches to the building, including color-coded hallways and signs to direct students and visitors.

Despite the success, members of the project said small details became occasional points of contention, such as the placement of Haverhill High's famous statue, The Thinker. Contractors said the statue would have to be moved from its position in the school's front plaza despite protests from committee members. The statue remains in about the same location it originally occupied.

"We felt that deserved to be the center of the square," Fossarelli said.

Scully said the improvements have had a profound impact on students, making them take pride in their school and the surrounding property.

"You can see by the spirit of the students that the physical plant has a lot to do with the atmosphere of the school," he said. "It has created a new spirit at the high school."

The final goal has also been achieved, with the school's accreditation probation being removed.