EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Haverhill

September 8, 2013

Expensive new school plan questioned

Council: Why not consider cheaper options?

HAVERHILL — The City Council wants to know why only the largest and most expensive option for replacing the deteriorated Hunking Middle School was presented for a key vote on the project two weeks ago.

At an Aug. 29 special meeting of the School Committee and the Hunking Building Committee, both boards voted to recommend construction of a kindergarten-to-grade-eight-school for 1,005 students. The school is expected to cost $61.5 million, according to a rough estimate by the architectural firm that put together the proposal.

The vote of the building committee, whose members were appointed by Mayor James Fiorentini, was required by the state’s School Building Authority before it considers the city’s proposal Nov. 11.

City Councilors John Michitson, William Macek and Colin LePage said they attended the joint school and building committee meeting and were disappointed and confused why smaller, less expensive options for the new school were not presented, as well as the rationale for discounting the smaller options.

The JCJ architectural firm studied three other options that included new buildings with fewer grade levels and students, but none of those options were formally presented or even described at the meeting, school and city officials said.

“I went to the meeting expecting to hear a debate over options for the replacement school,” Michitson told his fellow councilors at last week’s regular council meeting. “Instead, only one choice was presented.”

Councilors agreed to ask Superintendent James Scully to attend an upcoming council meeting to outline the options that were discounted and the rationale for eliminating them.

On Friday, Scully said he had yet to receive the council’s request, but he said he had already asked to attend an upcoming council meeting with the project’s architect to bring councilors up to speed on the project.

“This process is being directed by the (state) School Building Authority, and myself and the architects are doing our best to comply with that process,” Scully said. “My job is to recommend what I think is best for kids and the school district and that’s what I have done. But in the end, the decision on the size and cost of the new school rests with the state.”

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