Study Comes Back Saying Haverhill Spends ‘Less than National Averages on Building Maintenance’

Members of Haverhill Education Association say they found poor sanitary conditions when the returned to schools last Friday. (Courtesy photograph.)

Click image for Haverhill City Council agenda.

Haverhill city councilors are expected to hear tomorrow night that a plan to hire a maintenance director to oversee both school and city government buildings—approved more than a year ago—will go forward.

Mayor James J. Fiorentini last week released a study by Matrix Consulting Group that concurs with hiring a new director, but also suggests more job outsourcing and better use of technology. That study comes as members of the Haverhill Education Association reported “unacceptable conditions” when teachers and other staff reported to school buildings Friday. Union members reported dirty rooms and stagnant water in a sink, among other maintenance issues.

The study notes “Haverhill would be required to hire additional maintenance technicians over and beyond the 13(full-time equivalents) that currently perform maintenance.” Early last year, Joanna Dix of the Haverhill Education Coalition linked school maintenance to student achievement. She said Haverhill’s number of custodial and maintenance staff placing the schools below the category of “unkempt neglect,” achieved with an average of nine full-time employees.

Matrix sidesteps staff spending recommendations, citing the expectation of budget shortfalls due to COVID-19. It does note, however, the city spends “less than national averages on building maintenance” and “the city’s facilities maintenance expenditures are insufficient to provide high levels of service.” Matrix added a caveat, however, saying, “both the City and Schools expend relatively significant amounts for contracted repairs which, for purposes of comparison to (International Facilities Management Association) survey averages, must be converted to equivalent staff positions.”

“The project team has made no recommendations to reduce staffing in this report. Therefore, assuming that current staffing levels stay in place over the near term, there is no impediment to the development of a preventive maintenance program. Its implementation, however, may need to be deferred until the current fiscal crisis has passed…,” the study notes.

Matrix also noted 50% or higher of work requests should be completed during a 24-hour-period. “In Haverhill, only 16.1% of work requests are completed in 24 hours, or about one in six; fewer than half (43.5%) of all work requests are completed within one week; and only about three of every four (78.5%) work requests are completed within two months.

The job of maintaining 18 school-related buildings and 22 city buildings has been the subject of much discussion by both the City Council and School Committee. A June 2019 agreement between Fiorentini to hire a maintenance director was the key to approval of a $201 million city budget last year. The new director was supposed to have been hired and working back in January. Fiorentini, however, asked for a delay to hire a consultant to review the situation.

Robin Haley, author of the study, is expected to attend the City Council meeting as well as an upcoming School Committee meeting.

The Haverhill City Council meets at 7 p.m. in the Theodore A. Pelosi Jr. City Council Chambers, room 202, in Haverhill City Hall, 4 Summer St.

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