Parent Calls Whittier Middle the ‘Forgotten School;’ Mayor: It’s 2nd to Go

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

Paige Caswell, parent of an eighth grader at John Greenleaf Whittier School, pleaded for replacement of the building at last Thursday’s School Committee meeting. (WHAV News photograph.)

John Greenleaf Whittier School is second in line for replacement, but one resident gave an at-times emotional appeal last Thursday for immediate action.

Paige Caswell said the more than 60-year-old Concord Street middle school is “a pit,” suffering from a series of problems—mostly related to water issues on the swamp-like site.

“I’m saying, from what I’ve seen in the school this year and from the amount of time that I’ve spent on seeing these pictures and putting stuff together and budgets for things we haven’t even had, J.G. Whittier is the forgotten school,” she said.

She explained key problems are structural issues and mold in the boys’ locker room, which have forced the room to be closed; poor indoor air quality; severe moisture in classrooms; temperatures exceeding 90 degrees in restrooms; soaking wet playgrounds; missing plumbing fixtures; persistent roof leaks; use of the girls’ locker room as a classroom; and crowded classes.

Caswell is a parent of an eighth-grade student who is among the 542 pupils at the school. She asked for a complete review of the building.

Member Maura L. Ryan-Ciardiello, who placed the matter on the agenda, said the school is “disgusting” and in “desperate need for repair.” “It’s been going on for decades. This school clearly has been neglected and there’s serious safety and health concerns.”

School Supervisor of Facilities Heather Forgione. (WHAV News photograph.)

School Supervisor of Facilities Heather Forgione told 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.

School Committee member Scott W. Wood Jr. said the city’s Joint Facilities Committee has concluded, “the cost is going to be significant.” The committee, with members Ryan-Ciardiello, City Councilors Colin F. LePage and Timothy Jordan and a representative of the mayor’s office, met earlier that night.

Whittier Principal Brian C. Gill compared the school with a 1957 Cadillac. He said the building has been maintained and will continue to be maintained until the city can afford to buy a 2019 Cadillac.

Fiorentini said a replacement school will likely cost $60 to $70 million and he doesn’t believe voters will approve overriding the state’s tax-limiting law, Proposition 2 ½. He reminded residents that 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.