hgazette.com, Haverhill, MA

March 6, 2014

New school deserves voters' support -- if city's numbers accurate

The Haverhill Gazette

---- — If engineers said your house was falling apart, surely you’d pay attention.

And, you’d be all ears if, after repairs, they said you had spent all you should to keep it livable, that it was time to build a new home.

But the engineers did offer some good news. You’d be able to afford the new building with the same mortgage you paid on the old house.

It sounds like a deal you’d likely embrace. But you’d be foolish to go ahead without making sure the financial figures were correct.

So it is in Haverhill, as the push is on to build a new school to replace Hunking School.

Engineers have said Hunking is deteriorating. There’s no questioning that. In the fall of 2011, the city had to rush 150 students out of one wing of the building, where severe deterioration was found, and put them in another school. Once temporary repairs were made to the Hunking, the children returned, but the school is usable for only a few more years.

The debate began: Should Haverhill sink more money into the Hunking to extend its life or look to build a new school?

School officials said the answer is clear to them. They said Haverhill would be foolish to spend more money on the deteriorated building when the city could get the state to pay about two thirds of the cost of a new school. The city would get a new, bigger building that would also allow it to close the old Greenleaf School, saving money on renovations there. The new building would also allow Haverhill to shift students between other schools, easing overcrowding.

A group of parents is campaigning to convince voters to support the new school when they go to the polls in June. Their support is needed for Haverhill to get the state money. Voters would have to approve covering about a third of the expense.

Mayor James Fiorentini says voter approval means city taxpayers’ bills would not go up. To pay for the new building, he proposes using tax money that paid for new schools built in the early 1990s and that was soon to come off the books. Rather than taxpayers seeing a dip in their bills, they would continue paying the same amount as they have been for years to cover the cost of the new school. It amounts to fewer than $70 a year for the average homeowner, according to the city’s calculations.

This all sounds reasonable. Sinking more money into the failing Hunking does not seem to make sense. It appears the city needs a new school and that such a building would benefit not only students of that part of Bradford, but children across the city.

What the issue comes down to, as debates so often do, is money.

As long as officials are able to demonstrate that the numbers do indeed work, that taxes will not increase with the new project, voters should support it.

But they should take the time to closely scrutinize the city’s presentation before going to the polls.

Only then will voters have done the homework necessary for such a decision.