By Shawn Regan
---- — HAVERHILL — The new Hunking School will cost between $25 and $50 million, is likely to include multiple levels and should be built in place of or next to the existing building, the architects for the project told the School Committee last night.
The cost of the new building is contingent on the number of grades it will be built to accommodate, which the School Committee is expected to decide next month, Superintendent James Scully said.
Scully favors the largest option: A kindergarten to grade eight school that would accommodate around 1,000 students. That option would allow the city to close the outdated and deteriorated Greenleaf School and relieve overcrowding at Bradford Elementary. Other options include keeping the new building as a middle school or converting it to an elementary school.
In late 2011, the city closed part of the Hunking and moved about 150 students to another school due to structural problems in the foundation that threatened to collapse part of the building. Repairs have since been made, but the building is expected to be usable for only three more years.
Stephen Armington of JCJ Architecture told the School Committee that engineering tests show the entire Hunking property is suitable for a new school, despite concerns that have persisted for years that Hunking was built on wetlands that contributed to its premature deterioration. Armington said it’s his opinion the school’s design was so poor that rain water seeped in from the sides of the building rather than ground water from underneath.
As for the location of the new school, officials are deciding between two options: Renovating portions of the existing building and adding onto it, or demolishing the structure and building a new school on nearby playing fields.
These options would also allow Hunking students to remain on site during a phased construction project, officials said.
Armington said the state will not allow the city to simply renovate the existing building because the footprint is not large enough.
“And that’s not a recommendation,” Mayor James Fiorentini said. “Because if we don’t do what the state says, we don’t get money.”
The state has committed to reimbursing the city at least 67 percent of the cost of the new school, with the city responsible for the rest. Voters will be asked to pass a debt exclusion early next year, temporarily raising their property taxes to cover the city’s portion.
School Committee member Joseph Bevilacqua said many people in the city believe the Hunking playing fields aren’t suitable for construction because they are always wet and soggy.
“Convincing the public that the playing fields are not wet and that they can support a large, multi-story school is going to be tough,” Bevilacqua said.
Armington said most of the Hunking site is covered with a dense layer of soil called glacial till that prevents rain water from draining into the ground. That’s why the ground is often soggy, he said.
Armington said his firm will provide cost estimates for various building options in October, when the city is scheduled to seek approval for “the preferred alternative” from state School Building Authority.
Armington said his firm reviewed several other sites as potential locations for the new school before settling on the current site.
They included Silsby Farm and the Ornsteen Heel and Haverhill Paperboard properties, among others. Armington said they were discounted
either because they were too small or too expensive or complicated to acquire.