EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Haverhill

September 8, 2013

City Council questions $61.5M new school plan

Council: Why not consider cheaper options?

(Continued)

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 a few more years. About 450 students attend the existing grade-six-to-eight-school.

Scully, other school officials and the architectural firm have said replacing Hunking with a new kindergarten-to-grade-eight-school would allow the city to close the outdated and deteriorated Greenleaf School and relieve overcrowding at Bradford Elementary School as well as other city schools.

The council has no official role in developing the new school proposal, but it must eventually approve a plan to ask voters to temporarily increase their property taxes to pay the city’s share of the cost, which has been set at a limit of $24 million. The debt-exclusion vote is the last step in the process and is expected to happen by early spring.

“I am concerned the City Council is going to be out of the decision-making loop until we are asked to put the debt exclusion on the ballot,” Michitson said. “I’m worried we are just going to be asked to vote yes or no on a proposal, just like what happened to the School Committee at the last meeting. ...There seemed to be a lot of confusion at that meeting.”

The mayor has said the proposed debt exclusion won’t increase taxes because current payments on the debt for two elementary schools built about 20 years ago are about to expire. The plan, the mayor said, is to continue those payments for another 20 years to pay for a new Hunking. Taxpayers, however, still must vote to extend those payments, which currently amount to $67 a year for the average homeowner, officials said.

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