By Shawn Regan
---- — HAVERHILL — A preliminary study by the firm chosen to design a replacement for Hunking Middle School shows the new school could be built on the current site or nearby playing fields.
As a result of the study by JCJ Architecture, Superintendent James Scully is recommending two options for the new school:
That a portion of the existing building be renovated and an addition built onto it.
That Hunking be demolished and a new school built on nearby athletic fields. Cost estimates for either option are not yet available.
Scully said state and city officials agree the recently repaired wing of the deteriorated school can’t be saved, but that the other side of the building, including the gymnasium, is potentially salvageable.
In late 2011, the city closed part of the school and moved about 150 students to another building due to structural problems in the foundation that threatened to collapse part of Hunking, school officials said. Repairs have since been made, but the building is expected to be usable for only four more years.
The structural problems are believed to be related to the fact the building was built in the 1950s on filled wetlands, which led many to believe the current site might not be appropriate for a new or renovated building. The new engineering analysis appears to put those concerns to rest.
In a letter to the School Committee, Scully said engineers are studying the results of test pits dug on the Hunking property and that the results will “further guide our efforts to identify what the School Building Authority refers to as the ‘preferred option,’ which will come from the approved alternatives.”
School Committee President Paul Magliocchetti said he is not surprised by the recommendations because school and city officials made it clear they wanted to see options for replacing the school “that address the best interests of students with an eye on cost.”
“But the School Building Authority doesn’t believe the current building can be renovated, so I’m curious what they mean by renovation,” Magliocchetti said, referring to a presentation planned for tonight’s School Committee meeting by the architectural firm.
Scully is also recommending that the new school be designed to accommodate 1,005 students from kindergarten to grade eight, and that nearby Bradford Elementary School drop grade five from its kindergarten-to-grade-five format to relieve overcrowding there.
“A K-8 configuration (at Hunking) is ideal as it is optimal in meeting all of the needs of students,” reads a report by Scully to the School Committee.
Reducing the Bradford Elementary enrollment from around 500 students to 450 would free up space there for better classrooms for special education and autistic students, Scully said.
Greenleaf Elementary, the other school in the city’s Bradford section, would be closed under Scully’s scenario. Greenleaf, which opened in 1884 and houses students in kindergarten and grades one and two, is badly deteriorated and is not accessible to physically disabled students. At Greenleaf, the library and cafeteria are in the basement, where physical education classes are also held, the superintendent said.
“The building cannot meet the needs of a 21st century school facility,” Scully said in his report. “Electrical infrastructure cannot support technology that is offered at other schools.”
Under Scully’s proposal, students who attend Greenleaf would be sent to the new Hunking building.
The superintendent said the new Hunking should be designed with an eye on all of Bradford. His report on the matter said there are 1,290 students in Bradford, but that 272 of them attend schools in other parts of the city due to space limitations at the three neighborhood schools.
There are also many Bradford students who attend private schools and other schools outside the district, Scully said. Many of them, he said, have told Haverhill school officials they would consider enrolling in the Haverhill district when and if the city replaces Hunking with a new school.
“I am by no means suggesting the city build a massive building or a Taj Mahal,” Scully said of the city’s need to replace Hunking. “We should build a school the city can afford, that’s the proper size, and that will service students in that part of the city for the next 100 years, unlike the current Hunking which barely lasted 50 years. ...If we can get 72 percent reimbursement from the state, why wouldn’t we do what’s best for the long-term rather than the short-term?”
Haverhill is eligible for state money to pay most of the cost of the new school, leaving city taxpayers footing about one third of the price tag. But for that to happen, residents must approve paying Haverhill’s share of the cost through a debt exclusion — exceeding the taxation limits of Proposition 2 1/2 for a particular project and limited time.
Mayor James Fiorentini has said voters will be asked to pass the debt exclusion early next year. State officials have said Haverhill city would lose its opportunity for state construction money for several years if the debt exclusion fails at the polls.
This fall, the process of moving toward a new school will escalate. By the end of September, the city’s School Building Committee will vote on the options, choosing a preferred plan, according to the project’s schedule.
The city will have until the end of February to submit a school design to the state. State education officials will decide on the design in early April. If it is approved, the city and state will enter into an agreement on design and budget.
Stephen Armington of JCJ Architecture is scheduled to present the firm’s findings at tonight’s School Committee meeting at 7 in City Hall.