Despite Attempt to Shift Focus Away, Haverhill School Committee Affirms Whittier Middle Request

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

The Haverhill School Committee last night agreed to again ask the state to replace or renovate the John Greenleaf Whittier School, but not before straying into other school replacement ideas.

The submission of another Statement of Interest to the Massachusetts School Building Authority’s Core program refers to the 65-year-old building as obsolete and in need of significant repair. While the motion to submit the request passed unanimously, Mayor James J. Fiorentini attempted to divert attention to the John C. Tilton School and warned, either way, with the Dr. Albert B. Consentino School request already in the pipeline, additional state requests will go nowhere.

“We all know this is an exercise in futility. At some point, the J.G. Whittier has to be replaced, but it is certainly not in need of replacement right now. The school that I think we should carefully examine to be next is Tilton,” the mayor said.

Committee members agreed Tilton is also in need of significant updating, but member Paul A. Magliocchetti proffered the idea that perhaps the Tilton school, which houses 300-400 students, could actually be put out to pasture.

“If we get the larger Consentino school and then we do something similar where J.G. Whittier is, I think we’ll have the capacity to handle the kids at Tilton and maybe we just repurpose Tilton,” he explained.

Magliocchetti said such a plan could save taxpayers millions of dollars. Fiorentini expressed doubt and said he would like to see actual numbers.

Committee member Richard J. Rosa added not moving ahead with the Whittier school now could be an expensive mistake.

“I hope the city has learned its lesson. Kicking the can down the road doesn’t save the taxpayers money because if we would have done Consentino five years ago, we probably would have saved the taxpayers $50 million and that’s not an exaggeration. That’s reality,” he said.

Rosa took advantage of the discussion to suggest a checkbox on the state application be marked, indicating the city would consider consolidation of schools. He further argued the first schools to be cut should be the ones that are leased. He noted the city spends $400,000 a year to rent St. James School, now known as Tilton Upper, and classrooms at Temple Emanu-El. Whether or not the state will consider other schools while Consentino is in progress, Rosa said, the state will at least realize the city is serious about Whittier.

In addition to Rosa’s motions, the Committee gave unanimous approval to the mayor’s request, advanced as a courtesy by School Committee member Scott W. Wood Jr., to develop a plan for the future of Tilton school.

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