By Shawn Regan
---- — HAVERHILL — The plan for a new school in Bradford is taking shape, and voters will decide early next year whether to hike taxes for the project, the mayor said.
The city will ask voters to approve a debt exclusion override to temporarily increase property taxes, most likely in February or March, to cover Haverhill’s share of the project, Mayor James Fiorentini said. Under a debt exclusion, the tax increase goes away once the project is paid for.
Preliminary estimates have the new school in the $50 million to $62 million range, with the city and state sharing the cost. That would put Haverhill’s cost between $10 million and $15 million.
Before voters go to the polls, officials have said they will provide information about how the tax hike would affect homeowners’ bills.
The new school will replace Hunking Middle School, which received repairs to structural deterioration last summer, extending the life of the school.
The mayor said he accompanied School Superintendent James Scully and School Committee President Paul Magliocchetti last week to a meeting with state officials “to emphasize that Hunking must be replaced within four years.”
They met with a 12-member panel of the state’s School Building Authority to identify three architectural companies in the running to design the new school.
The same group is scheduled to interview the finalists May 7 and select the designer that day, city officials said.
The finalists are: Design Patnership of Cambridge, Dore & Whittier Architects and JCJ Architecture.
“The chairman of the Design Selection Committee said this was the first time that a mayor, school superintendent and School Committee president attended,” Scully said of last week’s meeting in Boston, which was also attended by state Rep. Diana DiZoglio, whose district includes the Bradford section of Haverhill.
The School Building Authority reviews local school construction proposals to determine their eligibility for state money.
DeZoglio said the future of Hunking school was the top issue on the minds of residents when she canvased the city’s Bradford section while campaigning for state representative last year.
“I’ve talked to residents, students and teachers and they all want a new building,” DiZoglio said. “Being from Methuen, I’ve been trying to find out as much as I can about this so I can make an informed decision when the time comes.”
Eighteen months ago, half of the Hunking building was closed and about 140 students were moved to the formerly vacant Bartlett School after problems were discovered with a section of foundation under Hunking’s north wing.
The problems caused fears that a portion of the building could collapse.
Temporary repairs to the foundation eventually allowed the students to return to the building. The repairs are expected to make the building safe for only a few years, however.
Scully said engineers have advised the city that the Hunking building should be replaced. The architectural firm that is expected to be hired next month will determine the size of the new school, where it will be built and the cost, Scully said.
The superintendent has said he favors a kindergarten-through-eighth grade school for up to 1,200 students that would replace not only Hunking, but also the deteriorated nearby Greenleaf Elementary School.