Magliocchetti Equates JG Whittier Chimney Disrepair to Hamel Mill; Fears for Student Safety

Haverhill School Committee. (WHAV News file photograph.)

One month after a lightning strike forced partial demolition of downtown’s Hamel factory chimney, School Committeeman Paul A. Magliocchetti wonders if a similar situation could befall Haverhill’s Whittier Middle School if that smokestack is not repaired.

Hearing an update on the Concord Street building’s repairs at Thursday’s School Committee meeting, Magliocchetti pointed out the issues raised about the chimney in the July 12 audit prepared by Russo Barr Associates. While the report largely focused on structural issues related to locker rooms, the chimney was another cause for concern, Magliocchetti said.

“A significant number of cracks were observed throughout the chimney from the base in the boiler room, to the top above the roof,” the report stated.

Supervisor of Facilities Heather Forgione told School Committee members that the report merits a broader discussion on how to strategically invest repair money in JG Whittier. According to Forgione, $250,000 is needed to upgrade the locker rooms, while $2.9 million is necessary to overhaul the HVAC system.

The lightning-damaged chimney, formerly used by the Louis H. Hamel Leather Co. (WHAV News photograph.)

When Forgione assured Magliocchetti children were not on the roof and that she hoped to have a mason out there to assess repair costs, he was firm in his concern for the kids.

“Cost is a factor; however children’s safety is above that,” he said.

Forgione said she could not answer why the chimney was of such a concern to engineers and architects who penned the report.

Replied Magliocchetti: “The lightening just struck the stacks downtown and we had to tear down the whole chimney down there. Are we risking that something falls off of this and hits kids?”

Superintendent Margaret Marotta also called the Russo Barr report “worrisome.” For her part, Marotta expressed concern to the School Committee that if enough repair money was funneled into Whittier, it may jeopardize future building projects subsidized through the Massachusetts School Building Authority.

“If we put $2-3 million into the school building and then repair it to a point where it is fully functional, it may come to a point where the MSBA wouldn’t fund it as a building project because it would no longer be in need of repair.”

In kicking of a discussion with the School Committee about the report Thursday, Marotta hopes to make the “right, informed decision” for students and families, she said.

As the Committee considers the Russo Barr report, Forgione did confirm Whittier students will return to class Aug. 27 to see new LED lights and new bathrooms, which are being finished over the net few weeks.

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