hgazette.com, Haverhill, MA

February 1, 2012

Editorial: A job well done by high school renovation team

Built in 1963, Haverhill High School was more than showing its age when a team from the New England Association of Schools and Colleges visited 35 years later.

The 1998 NEASC inspection resulted in a report that threatened the school's accreditation. NEASC made 159 recommendations, many of them having to do with the sorry state of the building, from poor air quality to out-of-date labs.

A year later, the city's Board of Health issued its own stark assessment of the condition of the high school.

Simply put, the school, physically, wasn't worthy of Haverhill's future leaders.

In 2002, a building committee recommended a "soup-to-nuts" overhaul of the building, but voters nixed a Property 2 1/2 debt exclusion to pay for it when the cost ballooned to $55 million.

The school's accreditation was then in real jeopardy.

But 10 years later, Haverhill once again has a high school it can be proud of.

The job cost $33 million — up about $6 million from the original price tag, due to overruns, but still $22 million less than the budget put before voters in 2002.

In fact, Superintendent James Scully said there's $200,000 left over, which he plans to put toward some technological upgrades, like wi-fi, that probably weren't considered back when the budget was put together.

"We did it within a tight, tight budget," said renovation committee member Ernie DiBurro. "The committee worked together as a team and the outcome is obvious."

The work spanned the tenures of three superintendents and three principals. But the job is now virtually complete. Most of the work was completed by the start of the last school year. But a milestone was marked last week when the renovation committee formed in 2003 by then-Mayor John Guerin Jr. officially disbanded, its job accomplished.

The committee worked diligently and cooperatively to make sure the work was done right, and it deserves the thanks of the entire city.

"We worked hard, but we also had fun along the way," Paul Bergman, the engineer who chaired the committee, told reporter Tim McCarthy. (See story on page 1.) "Everyone brought something to the table."

"I'm over-the-top excited about it," said committee member and former City Councilor Louis Fossarelli. "We can never allow any public building as important as that to fall into the state it was in."

The renovation work included added handicapped accessibility, upgraded ventilation and electrical systems and a new parking lot.

In the 2010-11 school year, the school's interior got a fresh coat of paint.

"I don't think this place had a paint job since 1964," Haverhill High Principal Bernard Nangle said.

Scully said students take pride in their new surroundings.

"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 entire city can also take pride — in the school, its students and the commitment it made to undertaking and completing the renovation for the sake of the next generation of taxpayers and homeowners.