Haverhill’s Whittier School Needs $3 Million in Repairs Even If Knocked Down in 10 Years

John Greenleaf Whittier School. (Jay Saulnier file photograph for WHAV News)

Click image for Haverhill City Council agenda.

An outside study finds Haverhill’s John Greenleaf Whittier School requires more than $3 million in repairs, but elected officials are in a quandary about how far to go since the school is slated for demolition.

The assessment by Russo Barr Associates of Woburn recommends replacing heating and hot water systems altogether, changing roof decking and rotted beams, rebuilding a cracked chimney and addressing locker room moisture. The assessment concludes almost all of the school’s problems can be traced to the failure of the building’s antiquated steam heat system.

City Councilor Colin F. Lepage. (Jay Saulnier photograph for WHAV News.)

City Councilor Colin F. LePage saw the report last week as a member of the city’s Joint Facilities Subcommittee. Paraphrasing Superintendent Margaret Marotta, he asked, “What is the point you don’t put money into the building anymore? When do you decide?”

Similar to the old Hunking School in design, construction and wetlands setting, the 1957-era building doesn’t meet current building codes, especially its concrete-backed, brick exterior walls. Russo Barr says those walls “could be hazardous in earthquake and high wind conditions.” LePage says he has seen this scenario play out before, noting the city spent $400,000 to temporarily shore up the old Hunking School.

Haverhill School Committee member Paul A. Magliocchetti. (WHAV News file photograph.)

School Committee member Paul A. Magliocchetti told WHAV he is disappointed the study did not take into account his idea for replacing Whittier’s old steam heat with modern rooftop units. He says a particular advantage of his plan is the ability to immediately provide air conditioning.

“The best solution might be to put new units on the roof. Not only to provide heat, but cooling in warmer months. People don’t realize how hot it gets in this building in September and May and June,” he explains. Magliocchetti says he’ll continue to push for consideration of rooftop units. Either way, he adds, it’ll take at least a decade to replace Whittier School and that’s about the lifespan of new heating systems.

Both LePage and Magliocchetti say money for repairs won’t come from the school budget since Mayor James J. Fiorentini has vowed amounts of more than $100,000 are a city capital expense. They also have second thoughts about whether the Dr. Albert B. Consentino School should have been first in the state’s repair pipeline.

“We went through that with the Hunking. Had we done JG Whittier first and built a building behind it, we could have relocated Consentino. It would have been a lot less piecemeal,” Magliocchetti says.

LePage offers another analogy, noting Whittier’s fate might match the high school—an expensive repair project instead of a replacement school.

Councilors LePage and Timothy J. Jordan have added the matter to Tuesday’s City Council meeting agenda.

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