It's worked twice in recent years, so Haverhill will try again.

The city is applying for state money to renovate Whittier Middle School or construct a new building.

The move continues a trend of Haverhill seeking state money for school projects. Five years ago, the city received $47.5 million from the state to help build a new Hunking School. With that project finished and the Hunking open, the city is now in line for millions to renovate Consentino School or build a new school on that site.

Local officials said Haverhill is taking the first step in applying for money for the Whittier project by notifying the state School Building Authority of the city's interest in the money. If the state approves the Whittier project, it will be two to three years before construction begins and four to five years before the work is finished, local officials said.

If the state does not approve the application, Haverhill still has a chance of getting the money later, officials said.

"If we don't get in, it does put us on MSBA's (Massachusetts School Building Authority) radar that we are interested in building a new school and, from my experience, it usually takes one or two or three times to submit applications before you are accepted into the process," Assistant School Superintendent Michael Pfifferling said at last week's City Council meeting.

Pfifering said many programs can't happen now at Whittier because it lacks space. Overcrowding is also a big concern, he said. 

"The band and music programs are held in the cafeteria so those have to be scheduled around lunches," he said. "John Greenleaf Whittier is a great school and a great community. Unfortunately it doesn't meet the 21st century learning requirements that we have in front of us."

Pfifferling said that because Haverhill is already working with the state toward a new or renovated Consentino School, it is possible the city's Whittier request could be passed over until the Consentino project has begun.

"I'm thinking two projects at the same time is quite a hefty ask," he said. 

The state has agreed to reimburse the city up to 76 percent of the cost of renovating the Consentino or building a new school. Local school officials said they are in the early stages of a feasibility study intended to determine whether it is better to do renovations or construct a new building.

City Councilor Melinda Barrett talked about Whittier Middle School, stressing it is vital that "all our children have the same opportunities, and right now the children that attend Whittier are lacking on the physical plan and their classroom sizes."

The School Committee and City Council have both voted to support seeking state money for the Whittier project.

The city's request to the state notes that Whittier, built in 1957, houses more students, 523 in grades five to eight, than it was designed to hold.

The city's concerns include the need for modern electrical systems that will allow the use of technology such as smart boards, with staff still relying on dry erase boards or chalkboards in many classrooms. Many classrooms only have two-pronged electrical outlets instead of modern, grounded three-prong outlets.

The cafeteria is lacking in space and the building's narrow hallways pose a safety issue during fire drills, local officials said.

Specialized services such as speech and occupational therapy often take place in hallways and the library is so small that it accepts only one class at a time, officials said. They said there is no space for special education services and that the gym is in poor condition.

The city's application to the state also notes that Whittier is undergoing repairs to address structural issues. The application lists concerns such as asbestos, a leaky roof, and steam which leaks from the school's heating system, affecting classrooms.

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