EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

December 26, 2007

A new Haverhill High; $27 million investment to remove school from probation next year, mayor says

By Shawn Regan , Staff Writer

HAVERHILL - Welcome to the new Haverhill High School.

It has been four years in the making, but the renovation that is bringing $27.2 million in improvements to the school is nearly complete, Mayor James Fiorentini said.

Aside from doors that work better and science labs with modern equipment, the project will remove the school from accreditation probation early next year, the mayor said. That probation went into effect when a team of experts, which tours high schools in New England, determined the building's condition was too poor to give students a proper educational environment.

With the exception of a delay in opening the renovated swimming pool facility, the 4-year-old project is on budget and on schedule, the mayor said.

"The project, as originally proposed to comply with (the New England Association of Schools and Colleges review group), is on the verge of completion," Fiorentini said of the group that certifies whether a school is providing a quality education and whether its students are prepared for college.

In 1998, the review group threatened to revoke the high school's accreditation if the city did not address long-standing concerns, such as poor air quality and handicapped access to outdated science laboratories. Haverhill High has 2,100 students.

The phased renovation was designed to modernize the building by providing better security, improved accommodations for students with disabilities, more efficient heating and cooling systems, cleaner air and modern science laboratories.

New heating and air-quality systems and 18 new or renovated science labs are among the improvements that have been completed so far. Energy-efficient, thermal pane windows and doors were installed throughout the building last year.

A glass-paneled entryway, equipped with a new elevator and a new security system to monitor students and visitors, was completed at the start of the 2004-2005 school year. A stage lift for wheelchairs was added two summers ago in the auditorium and two bathrooms in one wing of the school were expanded to comply with handicapped-accessibility laws.

The city is looking for additional state money to make improvements that were not included in the original project, Fiorentini said. They include replacing the building's aging electrical systems and installing new floors and lockers.

"These things are not required for accreditation, but we need them," Fiorentini said. "We're working with our state legislators to see if we can include them in the project."

The city is paying for the high-school renovation with loans until the state pitches in with a $19.3 million reimbursement next year.

The final touches of the original renovation will be completed this summer, the mayor said. They include exterior work, such as repaving roads and parking lots around the building and landscaping the property.

The accreditation group is scheduled to return in early 2008, school officials said.

The swimming pool was first scheduled to open last summer and more recently on Dec. 17. It missed both deadlines, however, because of issues related to passing a fire inspection. The fire chief is scheduled to inspect the pool building tomorrow, and the mayor said he is confident the facility will be ready to host a scheduled boys swim meet Saturday. The girls swim team had to compete and practice at out-of-town pools. The girls season recently ended and the boys season started about three weeks ago.

Enhancements to the pool facility include a new viewing area, bathrooms and handicapped-accessibility improvements, including a machine that lowers people with physical disabilities into the water.

"Substantial progress has been made," Fiorentini said of the pool. "There are no guarantees, but I'll be surprised if it's not open by Thursday or Friday."

The Haverhill High renovation includes:

Upgrading 18 science classrooms and laboratories.

Replacing all windows and doors.

Installing handicapped-accessible toilets, elevators, lifts, doors and ramps.

Replacing boilers, heating and ventilation systems.

Consolidating and relocating administrative offices, the guidance department and nurse's office.

Replacing student lockers.

Removing asbestos floor tile, pipe insulation, duct coverings and other hazardous materials such as lead-based paint.

Renovating the pool, including new viewing areas, bathrooms and handicapped accessibility improvements.

How does it get paid for?

Haverhill owes $7.8 million on the $27.2 million high-school renovation. The state will pay the balance and is scheduled to give the city $19.3 million in 2008. Here's the city's payment schedule:

Year#amount due





(State pays $19,349,859)





















Total cost: $27,215,000

State share (68.46 percent): $19,349,859

City share: $7,865,141

*Interest-only payments