EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

April 1, 2014

Pro-new school groupto launch public campaign

150 volunteers meeting tomorrow at Barking Dog

By Shawn Regan

---- — HAVERHILL — The citizens group organized to champion the Hunking School building project will launch the public face of its campaign tomorrow night.

Karen Peugh, treasurer for “Haverhill for Hunking: Haverhill Citizens for School Success,” said the parent-led organization is ready to assign jobs and lay out campaign plans at a kickoff meeting at 6:30 at the Barking Dog Ale House, 77 Washington St.

“Already roughly 150 volunteers have said they want to help inform Haverhill voters about why they should support the debt exclusion vote on June 10 that will help to pay the city’s share of the Hunking School project,” Peugh said.

Dozens of parents, students and school and city officials packed a standing-room-only council meeting March 25 to support the debt-exclusion proposition, many wearing stickers bearing the slogan “Haverhill for Hunking: Vote Yes for School Success.”

They are looking to add to their ranks at tomorrow night’s campaign kickoff. They urge anyone interested in supporting the effort to attend the meeting or to contact the group at haverhillforhunking@gmail.com.

“The structure of the C.D. Hunking School off South Main Street is crumbling,” the group’s press release said. “The floors of the school’s north wing are propped up by 400 steel posts that engineers say will keep the building usable through the 2016-2017 school year, but no longer.”

In late 2011, the city closed half of Hunking Middle School due to fears a portion of the building could collapse. About 150 students were sent to another school due to structural problems. Repairs were made and the students were eventually moved back to Hunking, but the building is expected to be usable for only two or three more years.

As recently as yesterday, school officials said the school’s boiler room was damaged due to water leaking in from walls and floors.

“It’s been one thing after another,” Superintendent James Scully said. “In addition to the major problems with the foundation, we’ve had problems with the roof and now water is seeping in from the walls.”

Last week, City Council scheduled an election June 10 to ask voters to temporarily raise property taxes to pay the city’s estimated $24 million share of the approximately $61.5 million project.

The state has agreed to pay the balance for a 1,005-student building in the city’s Bradford section that will serve students in kindergarten to grade eight. It is to be next to the existing school.

Scully said project engineers and architects expect to finalize the exact cost of the new school this week.

“The city’s opportunity for reimbursement of more than 60 percent of allowed construction costs rests with voter approval,” the citizens group said in its press release. “Haverhill for Hunking organized as a ballot question committee under Massachusetts law to campaign in favor of the project and to urge voters to support the June 10 debt exclusion vote.”

Peugh said volunteers with the campaign will be talking to all constituent groups in the city, “especially those without children who might not be aware of the benefits to them of the new school, such as protection of property values and making Haverhill more attractive to new businesses looking for a place to locate.”

Mayor James Fiorentini has said the city can’t afford to build the new school without a debt exclusion, which allows the city to exempt its share of the cost from the constraints of the Proposition 2-1/2 law. That law limits how much a community can raise taxes in a given year.

Without a debt exclusion, the city would have to pay its share of the cost in its annual operating budget. To do that, there would have to be “massive cuts” in other spending, including money for police officers, firefighters and teachers, the mayor said.

Fiorentini said that is the case because the city already makes yearly payments on several large loans, including its debt on the former city-owned Hale Hospital and bonds for Nettle School, the high school renovation, repairs to the downtown flood wall and to cap and close the old city landfill.

Without a new school, Scully said the district would have to find a place for about 500 Hunking students among the city’s already crowded schools. He said the additional transportation costs to bus those students out of Bradford would be exorbitant and that the city’s all-day kindergarten program would be among the casualties due to space limitations.

If you go

What: Campaign kickoff for group supporting new Hunking School

When: Wednesday, 6:30 p.m.

Where: Barking Dog Ale House, 77 Washington St. (downtown) Text ColorSwatch/NoneStrokeStyle/$ID/SolidText ColorSwatch/NoneStrokeStyle/$ID/Solid$ID/NothingText ColorText Color$ID/NothingText ColorText ColorPurpose: Assign jobs, plan strategy, sign up new volunteers