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.