EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

October 18, 2013

Plan to replace Hunking School: How it all began ...

City's plan to replace crumbling Hunking School goes to state

By Mike LaBella
mlabella@eagletribune.com

---- — HAVERHILL — The city’s effort to build a replacement for the deteriorated Hunking School is in the hands of the state.

Haverhill has submitted its choice of a design for the school and location to the Massachusetts School Building Authority, Superintendent James Scully said.

The building authority will decide whether to support the plan and make Haverhill eligible to receive construction money from the state.

Scully said the goal is to show taxpayers in Haverhill that the city is being fiscally responsible in its desire to create a building that will serve the community for the next 100 years and “for a much longer period of time than the current facility has.”

The plan, dubbed Option 4, calls for a school with room for 1,005 students in two classroom wings flanking a central area that features first-floor shared space for students and the community, including a cafeteria, gym, media center, stage and kitchen.

The building authority, a state agency which oversees school building projects and partial reimbursement of costs related to construction, will vote on what it calls the community’s Preferred Option.

The preliminary design was unveiled during a community meeting on Oct. 9 at Bradford Elementary School which about 80 parents and residents attended. Architect Jim LaPosta said the official design will be months in the making, and will result from numerous meetings with the MSBA, Haverhill school administrators, the public and a team of experts.

Residents asked questions about the building site, cost, payment method, maintenance plans and the anticipated fallout if voters don’t approve paying for the new school.

Scully and Mayor James Fiorentini stressed that the one thing that cannot be changed is the need to replace the Hunking.

“If I had a viable Plan B, I wouldn’t be going for a Plan A,” Fiorentini said. “There is no other choice.”

Scully said he and other officials looked all over the city for space that could be converted to a school, but nothing suitable was found.

Even finding space for the 250 Hunking students, who in the fall of 2011 had to be moved to the Bartlett School across the river while the foundation of Hunking’s north wing was shored up, was a challenge.

“If we couldn’t even find space for 200 or so students, believe me, there is no conversion space where we can put 1,000,” Scully said.

The option that city officials have chosen creates a school of nearly 148,000 square feet on what is now the front playing fields portion of the current Hunking School site, off South Main Street.

Some residents have expressed skepticism that the new school can be built on the site because of water issues. LaPosta said the reason for the sogginess of the site has much to do with the type of soil underneath. He said it’s a problem that is easily fixed.

No drainage system was installed when the school was built in the 1950s, LaPosta said, noting the new plan calls for an expansive drainage system.

“We could have had 100 maintenance people at the Hunking every day and I would still be standing here,” Fiorentini said. “Maintenance had nothing to do with what is wrong with the Hunking.”

LaPosta said building practices in the 1950s were not as sophisticated as they are today and one of the mistakes made was putting in a crawl space below the school that could be infiltrated by water. Another was not installing a drainage system that would prevent water from getting in.

The result was water damage that undermined the foundation, contributing to failure of the major systems of the school, including electrical, plumbing and heating.

Scully said the application to the state building authority included a maintenance plan.

“There is now a written maintenance plan in place for all school buildings that is adequately funded,” Scully said.

The School Building Committee, School Committee and City Council lined up behind the 1,005-student option in a series of meetings last month. The city expects to pay about 39 percent of the cost of the school, or $23.9 million. The average taxpayer would pay roughly $67 per year for the next 20 years to pay off the bond.

That is the same amount taxpayers are currently spending to pay off the loan taken nearly 20 years ago to build Pentucket Lake, Golden Hill, Silver Hill and Bradford Elementary Schools.

Voters will decide on a debt exclusion to fund the new Hunking in the spring of 2014.