EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

October 7, 2012

State OKs new school study

Question of voter approval remains

By Shawn Regan sregan@eagletribune.com
The Eagle-Tribune

---- — HAVERHILL — The state has agreed to pay for most of an $800,000 study to determine the size, cost and design of a proposed new school in Bradford.

The approval clears the way for the city to begin working on the project — drawing up plans and having meetings of parents and other people involved in recommending what the school should include.

“This is an important beginning not just for the Hunking School, but for the community of Haverhill as we begin to address the most important matters with regard to the educational setting for the students,” Superintendent James Scully said in a letter to the mayor, City Council and School Committee.

The Massachusetts School Building Authority, chaired by state Treasurer Steven Grossman, voted last week to authorize the $800,000 study and agreed to pay about two-thirds of the cost. Haverhill is to pay about $250,000, with the state picking up about $550,000, Mayor James Fiorentini said.

The mayor acknowledged $800,000 appears to be a lot of money for a study. But he said the state requires the detailed analysis before it will consider paying 68 to 72 percent of the cost of building the new school.

“Many people have come up to me and said they will do it for less,” Fiorentini said of the study. “But if the state is going to give us money to build a new school, they want to make sure that good architects and engineers are used and that corners aren’t cut in developing the best plan.”

Scully said the next step in the long process is to hire a project manager and schedule a meeting of the mayor’s building committee that is to oversee the project. Fiorentini said the city must name a design selection committee before hiring a project manager. He said that committee will advertise the job and eventually review and rank firms that submit proposals. The state School Building Authority will then select the project manager, based on the city’s recommendation, the mayor said.

“They usually accept our recommendation, but they just want to make sure there haven’t been any problems elsewhere with who we want,” Fiorentini said.

The mayor said applications for the project manager job will be due by Nov. 21 and that the city must submit its rankings of the applicants to the state by Dec. 12. The state will select the winner by Jan. 7, he said.

A year ago, about 140 Hunking sixth-graders were moved to the formerly vacant Bartlett School after problems were discovered with a section of the foundation under Hunking’s north wing that raised fears that a portion of the building could collapse.

Temporary repairs to the foundation were completed over the summer, which allowed all students to return to the building for the new school year. The repairs are expected to make the building safe for at least four years. In the meantime, Haverhill wants to get a replacement school built.

Preliminary estimates have pegged the cost of the new school at $50 million to $62 million, but it could be less if officials decide to back a smaller school with a less expensive design. Haverhill’s share of a project of that size is estimated at $10 million to $15 million. A preliminary schedule provided by the state shows Haverhill seeking approval of voters for the city’s share of the final cost in spring 2014.

Scully said he favors building a kindergarten-through-eighth grade school for up to 1,200 students. In his letter to city officials, he referred to a recent story in The Eagle-Tribune about a proposal to build 360 rental apartments near Hunking. He and other officials are concerned about school-age children that could potentially end up living in the massive housing development, given the condition of Hunking and other deteriorated or crowded schools in the city’s Bradford section.

School Committee member Scott Wood, one of 10 voting members on the School Building Committee, said he expects the panel will play a major role in deciding what kind of project is eventually pitched to Haverhill voters.

“When he appointed me, the mayor didn’t ask what I’ll support and I didn’t tell him what I might or might not support,” Wood said of his role on the building committee. “At the end of the day, the big question is, will voters pass an override to pay for it? And what do we do if they don’t?”

Fiorentini said he intends to schedule the building committee’s first meeting this month. He said the feasibility study is expected take at least a year and that he doesn’t support asking voters to increase their property taxes to cover the city’s share of a new school until the study is completed. Voters will eventually be asked to pass a debt-exclusion override, which would allow the city to temporarily skirt the tax-limiting constraints of the Proposition 2-1/2 law, to raise the city’s share of the cost.

City Councilor Robert Scatamacchia and others have called for the mayor to appoint some Hunking parents to the building committee. Scatamacchia is the council’s representative on the committee.

“We want the community to feel they are part of the discussion,” Councilor Mary Ellen Daly O’Brien said. “That and parental involvement are going to be key, especially as we address the funding issue.”

Wood said he agrees with the mayor that the building committee shouldn’t have too many members.

“I don’t mind one or two parents on it,” Wood said. “But I agree it shouldn’t be too big. Large committees have a hard time making decisions and getting things done.”