By Shawn Regan
---- — HAVERHILL — It’s Election Day in Haverhill.
Voters are deciding whether to temporarily increase their property taxes to pay the city’s $21 million share of a $61.5 million building to replace the deteriorated Hunking Middle School in the city’s Bradford section.
The state School Building Authority Board voted last week to contribute $40 million for the project — $3 million more than the city originally expected.
City Clerk Linda Koutoulas said she expects about 12 percent of the city’s approximately 41,500 registered voters to cast a ballot today. The polls are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Koutoulas said about 220 voters have requested absentee ballots for today’s election, mostly elderly residents in nursing homes and Bradford residents.
Mayor James Fiorentini said the debt exclusion would add about $71 per year for 20 years to the average property tax bill. But he said tax bills won’t increase because an old debt exclusion for two schools built many years ago will expire around the same time the city would start paying the new Hunking loan.
The proposed school for up to 1,005 students in kindergarten to grade eight is to be built next to the existing building. Construction would begin in the spring and the new school would open two years later.
If the debt exclusion fails, officials said the city will have to chose from a variety of poor and temporary alternatives. Those options, the mayor said, include more temporary repairs to the existing building, buying or renting portable classrooms, or busing students to already crowded schools in other parts of the city.
School Superintendent James Scully said the new school won’t just benefit Bradford, but would also bring an end to overcrowding in other Haverhill schools. He said it would also allow Haverhill to avoid sinking more money into repairing Hunking, as well as the aging Greenleaf Elementary School, which is also in Bradford.
In addition to the mayor and superintendent, the City Council and School Committee have unanimously endorsed the debt exclusion.
In late 2011, the city closed half of Hunking Middle School due to fears a portion of the building could collapse due to structural problems. About 150 students were bused to a then-closed school on the other side of the Merrimack River. Temporary repairs were made and the students were eventually moved back to Hunking.
The deteriorated building is expected to be usable for only two or three more years.
Haverhill's polls are open topday from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. for the new school vote. Here's where to vote:
Precinct 1: Consentino School, 685 Washington St.
Precinct 2: Washington Square elderly housing, 25 Washington Square
Precinct 3: Haverhill High School gym, 137 Monument St.
Precinct 1: Northpoint Bible College, 320 S. Main St.
Precinct 2: Hunking School art room, 98 Winchester St.
Precinct 3: Moody School, 59 Margin St.
Precinct 1: Citizen Center, 10 Welcome St.
Precinct 2: Public library, Summer Street
Precinct 3: Universalist Unitarian Church, Ashland Street
Precinct 1: Nettle School, 150 Boardman St.
Precinct 2: Northern Essex Community College, 100 Elliot St.
Precinct 3: Kennedy Circle elderly housing, Kennedy Circle
Precinct 1: Julian Steele elderly housing, 772 Washington St.
Precinct 2: First Presbyterian Church, 346 Broadway
Precinct 3: West Congregational Church, 767 Broadway
Precinct 1: Haverhill High School, 137 Monument St.
Precinct 2: Whittier Middle School, 256 Concord St.
Precinct 3: Pentucket Lake School, 252 Concord St.
Precinct 1: Elderly Housing Community Room , Greystone Avenue
Precinct 2: Hunking School library, 98 Winchester St.
Precinct 3: Bradford Elementary School, 116 Montvale St.