Haverhill Mayor Reconsiders Seeking State Aid for Whittier School; Will Submit HHS Roof

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

Mayor James J. Fiorentini says he may have erred when he told a school parent activist the city would not submit a request to the state this year to replace the John Greenleaf Whittier School.

Fiorentini acknowledged sending parent Paige Caswell the bad news in an email last Thursday. He says, though, he doesn’t want to raise “false hope” the Massachusetts School Building Authority will accept the project.

He told WHAV, “I’m still hoping Whittier will be in the pipeline, but there’s no chance the state will approve it. They made it crystal clear. If they did approve it—and they won’t—we couldn’t pay for it. I would be smarter if I let the state be the bad guy.” The mayor says he does intend, however, to ask the state for a new roof at Haverhill High School and will consult again with the City Council and School Committee about Whittier middle school. Last August, Fiorentini expressed skepticism at submitting a request since the Dr. Albert B. Consentino has become eligible for assistance. He left the impression, however, he would do so anyway.

“I have no objection to submitting an application if the School Department will prepare it to the MSBA. My vision, I’d love to have a brand-new school for the kids at Consentino and the kids at Whittier and we can give it a try. I don’t want to mislead people though. I don’t want the public or the Whittier parents to think that I’m promising them something that is going to be very, very difficult to deliver,” he said.

Caswell, who raised awareness of Whittier building issues and succeeded in getting temporary repairs, says she was “upset” by the mayor’s email. “Our infrastructures will continue to crumble because he simply does not care to put the money into them that is needed to keep them maintained. It’s very sad and so unfortunate for our children, who deserve nothing but the best.”

Last summer, the mayor explained why he doesn’t believe a Whittier request would be accepted while Consentino is going through the process. “The MSBA has told us one school at a time and, unless the school is substantially completed, they won’t do it.”

Back in 2018, Councilor Colin F. LePage led the fight to submit Consentino, Whittier and John C. Tilton Schools to the state for aid. While Consentino ultimately was accepted, the other schools were not. Aware of the School Building Authority’s position, LePage asked Sen. Diana DiZoglio to help the city get a waiver from the one-school-at-a-time rule. DiZoglio told WHAV Monday, “I am committed to working alongside both city officials and the MSBA to ensure these projects receive the funds they desperately need, in as timely as a fashion as logistically possible.”

Fiorentini noted Haverhill will also be paying 40% of the cost of renovating Whittier Regional Vocational Technical High School. “I understand everyone wants everything all the time, but it’s not possible,” he said.

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