Councilors Approve J. G. Whittier School Repairs; Ask Legislators to Push State on Waiting Period

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

Haverhill city councilors Tuesday night unanimously agreed to a pared down set of repairs to the John Greenleaf Whittier School and asked local legislators to help cut the waiting period for state money to build a replacement.

Superintendent Margaret Marotta said reducing the project from $3 million to $750,000 aims to serve students for the next five to 10 years, rather than the original plan of 30-50 years. Councilor Colin F. LePage, however, said he worries the scaled back project won’t be enough.

“Are we putting enough money in here that is going to take care of things or are we going come back and there’s going to be some more, and is this going to be something that goes?” he asked.

Paige Caswell, the parent who emotionally raised awareness of Whittier’s issues back in January, told WHAV she is pleased with the result. “It bothers me to spend $750,000 for a school that will eventually come down, but the fact of the matter is our kids need to be safe and there’s certain things that need to be done in there. I really hope that all these ‘yeses” and ‘yeas’ really mean that it’s going to get done.”

Concerned about the original estimate, Marotta told councilors she went back to consultant Russo Barr of Woburn to find out if a smaller project would meet immediate needs. She said such a project would restore closed locker rooms, safely remove asbestos, regulate heat from classroom-to-classroom, fix loose bricks on an outdoor chimney and replace roof decking and rotted beams.

“They’re going to about things in a different manner than was in the initial report. They believe they can put individual thermostats in the classrooms that will regulate the heat in the classrooms with the system that we have rather than repair the system,” she said.

Councilor Timothy J. Jordan, who has been critical of school maintenance, told the superintendent she has “inherited a mess.” Noting that repair or replacement of the Dr. Albert B. Consentino School is next up, a Whittier School solution could be 8-10 years away.

Having worked in the legislature, Councilor Thomas J. Sullivan suggested the city lean on its legislative delegation to push the Massachusetts School Building Authority into changing its rules. In this way, he explained, Whittier replacement might begin even as Consentino School is getting underway. His colleagues agreed. Marotta estimated state help would pay 65-70% of new school construction.

Responding to Councilor Melinda E. Barrett’s fear that costs will escalate once workers begin, Mayor James J. Fiorentini said he and the school department are simply following the advice of engineers. “The last thing in the world that any of us want to do is spend $3 million and then knock a school down. That just doesn’t make any sense whatsoever.”

Comments are closed.