By Mike LaBella
---- — HAVERHILL — The city will ask the state to help build a new school for up 1,005 students to replace the deteriorating Hunking School.
The city’s proposal calls for the new school to be built on a field next to the Hunking or elsewhere, instead of on the site of the current school after it is torn down.
The School Committee and the city’s School Building Committee have decided to ask the state to approve this plan:
Building a school double the size of Hunking, which now serves grades six to eight. The new school could house as many as 1,005 students in kindergarten through grade eight.
The state to pay about 72 percent of the cost, with Haverhill paying the rest. The new school is expected to cost between $50 million and $60 million, officials said.
The location of the new school to be either in a field next to Hunking or another site not on the Hunking property. The location will be determined by officials later this year.
Overcrowding to ease in other schools across the city. Because the new school will be bigger than Hunking, it will allow students who live in Bradford but attend schools elsewhere in Haverhill to go to school in Bradford, Superintendent James Scully said. Moving those students back to Bradford will make the city’s other schools less crowded, he said.
Taxes to hold steady for city residents paying Haverhill’s share of the new school cost.
Scully said the current payments on the debt to build schools such as Golden Hill Elementary are about to expire and the plan is to continue those payments to pay for a new Hunking. But taxpayers would have to vote to extend those payments, which currently amount to $67 a year for the average homeowner.
“Your taxes will not be increased as a result of a new school,” Scully said.
The School Committee and School Building Committee last week both supported the new school plan. The Building Committee is responsible for bringing the plan to the state. That is expected to happen early next year so the project can begin. State officials have told Haverhill that recent repairs to Hunking’s structure will only allow that school to stay open three more years.
School Committee President Paul Magliocchetti said the committee stressed it does not want the new school cost to increase taxpayers’ bills.
“The vote we took was to authorize the Building Committee to request design plans for a school to accommodate up to 1,005 students,” Magliocchetti said, “but with the stipulation that the cost of the project shall not require the city to bond more than $24 million, which is the same amount the city is currently paying for the last school buildings that were built.
”Every member wanted to make sure property taxes would not be increased to build a new Hunking,” he said. “But we would still need a debt exclusion to roll over the current debt.”
The mayor has said he expects voters will go to the polls early next year to vote on that plan to pay Haverhill’s share of the cost for the new school. The state has said Haverhill will be eligible for state construction money if the city acts relatively quickly.
This fall, the process of moving toward a new school will escalate.
Magliocchetti said the Building Committee is required by law to present three options. He said one option is a Hunking renovation plan, even though Haverhill does not support such a project. Another is tearing Hunking down and building a new school on the same site. The third is building a new school on the field next to Hunking or at another location — the option supported by Haverhill.
The city has 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 the design and budget.
Scully said the proposed project to build a kindergarten-to-grade-eight school would not just benefit Bradford, but would also bring an end to overcrowding in other Haverhill schools. He said it would also avoid having to sink more money into repairing Hunking as well as the aging Greenleaf Elementary School, which Haverhill had molded into a school but was originally built in 1884 as a town hall for the Bradford area.
Greenleaf, which houses students in kindergarten and grades one and two, is badly deteriorated and not accessible to physically disabled students, Scully said. At Greenleaf, the library and cafeteria are in the basement, where physical education classes are also held, he said.
“This is an equity issue for all of Haverhill,’’ Scully said of his desire to use a new Hunking to balance enrollments between schools.
School officials say a new school would solve a dilemma that goes back to 1999, when a study of Haverhill school buildings recommended Hunking be torn down and a larger school be built on the site. Officials said thousands of dollars have been spent on repairs over the years, yet the building continues to deteriorate.
It got so bad two years ago that the city moved 150 students from the Hunking to another school due to fears that part of the Hunking would collapse. Temporary repairs have since been made.
Scully said that if the city waits on making a decision to build a new school, the reimbursement rate from the state could drop, resulting in the city having to pay a greater share of the cost.
”It’s critical to do this now while we have that formula in place,” he said. “Right now we have a golden opportunity to have the best dollars available and not make the mistake the city made in 1999 by not doing anything, which resulted into throwing money and more money into a building that is falling apart.”
Scully said the proposed building would house Hunking’s student population, which is nearly 500 at this time, as well as students from schools across the city that are now overcrowded. He said Bradford Elementary has nearly 600 students, but was built to house about 460 students. A new Hunking would relieve overcrowding there. The student population at Greenleaf Elementary, which is currently about 200, would also be housed at a new Hunking.
”In addition, we have 204 students that live in Bradford that we have to bus to other schools in the city,” Scully said. “So if we add it all up, we get about 1,000 students.’’
Some students would “no longer have to be given small group instruction in basements and closets,” Scully said. “The arts could finally have the necessary space to allow children to have proper instructional space for music without imposing and interrupting other classes. Art classes could be held in art rooms and not just if space is available.’’
Scully said a new Hunking would allow more students back into their neighborhood schools across the city, and not just students in Bradford, and would likely result in savings on busing.
”We’re above the state guidelines in almost every building,” he said about student overcrowding. “If you look at other communities that built new schools, you’ll see more people moved in and the tax base increased.
“We had 17 families leave who did not want their children going to the Hunking because of the condition of the building,” he said, noting parents expressed concerns about poor air quality and the building’s structure.