By Shawn Regan
---- — HAVERHILL — The proposed new school in Bradford will have two floors, one for younger students and one for older students to keep them separated, according to a design approved by the Hunking Building Committee.
The school will have two wings flanking a center structure. That center area will house the cafeteria, gymnasium, administrative offices and media center, according to the design.
The building committee supported that design after Mayor James Fiorentini, City Council and the School Committee approved asking the state to help build a $61.5 million school for 1,005 students in kindergarten to grade eight. That building is to replace the deteriorated Hunking Middle School.
Haverhill must pay $24 million of the cost, with the state covering the rest, if state education officials approve the plan. The new school is to be built on playing fields next to the existing Hunking building off South Main Street.
The city must submit the proposal to the state School Building Authority by Thursday, according to the project’s calendar. The School Committee signed off on the design last week.
The new school is to have 147,992 square feet split into a “lower” school and an “upper” school to separate younger and older students, according to the design.
Superintendent James Scully said one of the advantages of the plan is that students at the current Hunking School won’t need to be moved during construction. They would remain in the existing building while the new school is built, he said.
When the new school is ready, the old school will be demolished and replaced with playing fields for the new school, Scully said. Use of playing fields at the site will be lost for two years, he said.
In late 2011, the city closed part of the Hunking and moved about 150 students to another school due to structural problems in the Hunking foundation, which 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.
The building is shored up by 400 metal poles.
“Concrete in the crawl space under the school is crumbling, the result of improper building practices coupled with groundwater seepage over the past five decades,” a School Department press release said.
Fiorentini, who is also the School Committee chairman, said voters will be asked to approve paying the city’s share of the cost through a debt exclusion vote. He said that vote will come soon after the state School Building Authority approves the scope and budget for the new school on April 2.
Fiorentini has said the debt exclusion will not increase taxes because current payments on the debt for elementary schools built about 20 years ago are about to expire. He said the plan is to continue those payments for another 20 years to pay for the Hunking replacement. Taxpayers, however, still must vote to extend those payments, which currently amount to $67 a year for the average homeowner, the mayor said.
In approving the current plan, city leaders rejected three alternate options. They included: A grade-four-to-eight school at the Hunking site; a grade-six-to-eight school for 455 students next to Bradford Elementary School; and a partial renovation of the Hunking building that would save part of the structure and add onto it, making a new kindergarten-to-grade-eight school.
Jim LaPosta, chief architect for the JCJ Architecture firm designing the new school, said the preferred alternative, which is the largest of the options, is actually the least expensive choice for Haverhill because it would allow the city to replace the outdated and deteriorated Greenleaf School and send Greenleaf students to the new school.
If Greenleaf remains open, the city must spend $11 million to renovate that building and make it accessible to physically disabled students, LaPosta said. Greenleaf needs a new roof, elevator, stair lifts, mechanical and electrical systems and bathrooms, as well as upgrades to technology, he said.
Closing the Greenleaf would also save the district a portion of the $1.7 million that is spent there annually, Scully said. Replacing Hunking with a new kindergarten-to-grade-eight-school would allow the district to relieve overcrowding at Bradford Elementary School, as well as other city schools, Scully said.
The superintendent said about 200 students who live in Bradford are now bused to schools in other parts of the city because there isn’t room for them in Bradford schools. He also said the proposed 1,005-student school would have an advanced middle school program with room for about 100 students who live outside Bradford.
The next meeting of the Hunking Building Committee is Tuesday in the mayor’s office.