By Mike LaBella
---- — HAVERHILL — A proposal to have the new Hunking Middle School built off site could result in millions of dollars in savings to Haverhill’s taxpayers according to one City Councilor.
At last night’s meeting, Councilor Colin LePage said there is no question the city needs to build a new Hunking School, and that the currently proposed design to build a 1,005 student school on site through traditional construction methods is expected to cost $60.5 million.
He said the state is expected to reimburse the city about 61 percent of the cost, leaving taxpayers a balance of roughly $24 million. LePage says there may be a way to reduce that cost.
He told the council last night that by using off-site construction, similar to how the $11 MVRTA parking garage was built, it could reduce the city’s share to approximately $19 million, a savings of about $5 million.
Plus, he said that with off-site construction, while the site is being excavated and an extensive drainage system is installed, many components of the building, such as classrooms and other smaller spaces, could be built off site then trucked in and tied into the frame of the building.
LePage said he presented his idea to the Hunking Building Committee last week, but enhanced it last night through a PowerPoint presentation showing images of building projects in other states where off-site construction methods were utilized.
He said he wants the Owners Project Manager (the city’s construction agent in this process) to further explore and obtain cost estimates from qualified builders of off-site construction.
Mayor James Fiorentini addressed the council saying the city should consider any proposal that saves taxpayers money, without sacrificing quality.
“We asked the OPM to set aside one day to consider off-site construction,” Fiorentini said, adding that it will take place sometime in December.
But, Fiorentini noted that the Massachusetts School Building Authority has not approved this method of construction for a school building in the state.
“We’d be a trendsetter,” Fiorentini said.
LePage’s suggestion drew the support of most councilors, including Mary Ellen Daly O’Brien, who said the city owes it to taxpayers to explore every option to save money.
“If we can’t get the community behind this, it will fall to defeat,” she said, referring to a plan to ask taxpayers to vote to extend the debt exclusions for the four elementary schools that were built in order to fund a new Hunking School.
Council President Robert Scatamacchia expressed concerns for a possible lack of oversight if pieces of the building are built out of state.
“I think everything should be done on site,” Scatamacchia said.
Councilor John Michitson said the city should be looking to reduce the cost of a new Hunking if it can, but not if it means reducing the quality of a new school.
“All we are asking for is a professional comparison of proposals,” Michitson said in reference to methods of construction. “I think it’s that simple.”
LePage talked about examples of off-site construction, including one in New York City that is being developed by Forest City, the same real estate development firm that created the Hamel Mill Lofts on Essex Street.
He said this method of construction equals or exceeds specifications called for under on-site construction methods.
Councilor William Macek supported the idea of looking into off-site construction as a possible method for building a new Hunking School.
“Any fear of the word modular needs to be rethought,” Macek said.
City Councilor William Ryan was against the idea, saying the state has never approved this method of construction. Ryan said he wants a new Hunking built on site in a traditional manner.
LePage said the MSBA has told the city that off-site or modular construction could be reimbursable, just as long as the project would result in a building that is cost effective, energy efficient, educationally sound and capable of functioning as an educational facility for children for at least 50 years. Other requirements would have to be met as well.
LePage said the MSBA indicated that “modular construction” in this context refers to pre-designed building or units or buildings that have been assembled and equipped with internal plumbing, electrical or similar systems prior to movement to the site where they are attached to each other, affixed to a foundation and connected to external utilities.