Haverhill Seeks Permission to Waive Bid Laws and Make ‘Emergency’ Whittier School Repairs

Mayor James J. Fiorentini toured J.G. Whittier's new boys' bathrooms April 19, 2019. (Courtesy photograph.)

Click image for Haverhill City Council agenda.

Haverhill is seeking state approval to waive bid laws and spend $750,000 to make “emergency” repairs to John Greenleaf Whittier School.

Calling the situation an “extreme emergency,” the city argues the lengthy process of formally soliciting and awarding bids will prevent repairs from taking place before students return to classrooms. Mayor James J. Fiorentini says his administration “quickly eliminated” a consultant’s proposed $3 million renovation project. The administration explains the recent report didn’t necessarily include asbestos removal and the full project would trigger current building codes the school cannot meet. The mayor says he also had another reason.

“If we did that, we would never get the state money to rebuild the school. We still might not get the money to build those schools,” he adds. The mayor says the Massachusetts School Building Authority typically doesn’t pay for schools that have already been repaired.

Plans before the City Council Tuesday instead call for reducing Whittier’s cracked chimney to four feet, replacing roof decking and rotted wood beams above the existing locker rooms, removing asbestos from around steam piping and replacing defective pipe sections throughout the school. It does not include Russo Barr Associates’ suggestion the steam boiler be replaced.

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

A member of the Joint Facilities Committee, Councilor Colin F. LePage says he doesn’t disagree with the quick fixes, but is worried they won’t last seven years or until other building failures crop up. He asks, “How much less would these things have costed if these had been taken care of when the issues came up? And what could possibly happen after this?”

LePage renewed his earlier plea for an assessment of all city buildings to determine what else may come up. He explains, another unforeseen emergency could push off final replacement of Whittier School in 10 years. As early as 2016, LePage pushed for presenting Tilton, Consentino and Whittier Schools to the state for repairs or replacement.

In deciding on the $750,000 plan, Fiorentini says he consulted with school Superintendent Margaret Marotta. He says her priorities are Whittier School, the roof of the Charles C. White pool at Haverhill High and the Moody roof. “In effect, we’re swapping the Whittier for the Moody. “We have to keep those kids warm and it is unacceptable what happened last year.”

Haverhill is seeking a state waiver of bid and advertising rules to undertake the “minimum work necessary.” In the city’s request, it noted the Woburn consultant’s plan would trigger current building codes surrounding earthquake, wind and snow load requirements. The city, however, would still seek three competitive bids.

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