Firefighters Respond to Whittier Middle School ‘Steam Boiler Issue;’ Repairs Underway

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Paige Caswell pleaded for replacement of the John Greenleaf Whittier School at a School Committee in January. (WHAV News file photograph.)

Haverhill firefighters were called Saturday night to the John Greenleaf Whittier School for what turned out to be a steam leak.

Fire Chief William F. Laliberty told WHAV called the matter “a steam boiler issue in the west wing of the school.” Corroding steam pipes were one of the issues raised last month when parent Paige Caswell apprised the School Committee of the building’s deteriorating shape. Haverhill School Superintendent Margaret Marotta said maintenance staff have since stepped in.

“It has been repaired…there are significant upgrades needed to the heating system at Whittier and we hope to have those upgrades approved and completed soon,” Marotta told WHAV.  She added, “there is some advance work which we are completing now prior to the repair.”

Last month, the more than 60-year-old Concord Street school was the focus of scrutiny. Caswell called the middle school “a pit,” suffering from a series of problems—mostly related to water issues on the swamp-like site.

School Supervisor of Facilities Heather Forgione told School Committee members all problems are related to a “constant flow of water” in crawl spaces under the building. She called it a “very complex problem” that causes steam pipes to corrode and leak moisture. The long-term solution is to divert groundwater and replace the lines. Bathrooms, however, will be quickly renovated during a “slammer” when school is out for February and April breaks.

Mayor James J. Fiorentini said Whittier is next in line for replacement after Consentino School. He said a new school will likely cost $60 to $70 million, but he doesn’t believe voters will approve overriding the state’s tax-limiting law, Proposition 2 ½. He said voters 20 years ago rejected the cost of building a new school by a 4-1 margin.

“We all made a decision, Consentino is the school we had to replace first. I agree with you, Whittier should come next. Although I may have Tilton parents yelling at me, but Tilton is structurally sound,” the mayor said.

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