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Haverhill

April 5, 2013

From 1800s school to modern kids center

YMCA to expand learning center at historic Whittier Building

HAVERHILL — For four years, the historic Whittier Building on Winter Street sat vacant, surrounded by overgrown grass.

The YMCA injected life into the building in 2011, taking it over and renovating the first floor for use as a early childhood education center.

Now, the YMCA wants to spread that life to the second floor of the building where local poet and abolitionist John Greenleaf Whittier attended school in the early 1800s. The organization is raising money to renovate the second floor to add additional rooms for its growing early education program, while maintaining the historic facade of the building.

“We hope to begin renovations this summer and have them completed by September,” said YMCA Director Tracy Fuller.

She said the YMCA hopes to raise $100,000 for the renovations between now and a planned opening in the fall.

“We already have a few major donors, including Haverhill Bank, and we’re looking to raise another $50,000 or more,” Fuller said. “We’ve sent out donation requests and our capital campaign is led by King Davis (the well-known former owner of a real estate firm). There’s also an opportunity for people to buy bricks, which will become part of a walking and biking path around the Whittier Building.”

The 6,000-square-foot Whittier Building at 87 Winter St. is next to the YMCA. The building is considered one of the city’s signature properties. Besides its role in the poet Whittier’s education, the building was also the city’s first high school.

In June 2011, the YMCA announced it was renovating the first floor of the old brick building to create its Children’s Learning Center, a preschool program that opened that fall. The building had been empty since the Greater Haverhill Chamber of Commerce moved out in 2008.

The building came back to life when the YMCA opened the children’s center. Fuller said it cost about $175,000 to renovate the first floor, including installing a sprinkler system for the entire building.

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