State Makes Good on Whittier Tech Threat: Approve Original Project or Get Out

Whittier Regional Vocational Technical High School. (Jay Saulnier file photograph for WHAV News.)

The Massachusetts School Building Authority last week said a second election on Whittier Regional Vocational Technical School’s original building plan must take place by April 11 or the school must leave the state reimbursement program for the foreseeable future.

The state, as expected, followed through on a December declaration by Executive Director Mary Pichetti that should communities reject the plan, the Authority “would likely be working with the superintendent and the district to remove their Statement of Interest.” WHAV was the only media that covered the December meeting and reported the threat Dec. 14.

Superintendent Maureen Lynch said Friday notification of the failed Jan. 23 vote within the 10-day mandatory reporting window triggered the meeting with the state. Lynch said she requested “an extension to pursue alternative solutions.”

“As was made clear from the start, the MSBA will not allow any changes or cuts to the existing project. The first option involves conducting another district election—on the same project, with the same costs—before April 11 to remain compliant with the 120-day MSBA deadline.”

The second option “would effectively mean starting over, and it would likely be several more years before Whittier can reapply with a new Statement of Interest. There is no guarantee of acceptance into the program once again,” Lynch said.

In this case, she added, “Whittier would then form a strategic plan to address the maintenance issues of the existing school building in a triage order starting with the building’s most serious problems. This process necessitates a thorough evaluation of all systems and careful prioritization of the next steps for replacement and/or rehabilitation, acknowledging the complexity and significance of these decisions.

The $445 million replacement project, the result of a yearslong process and feasibility study, was rejected by 10 of 11 sending communities, failing 16,123 to 5,714. Haverhill was the only community with a majority in favor, coming in at 2,628 to 1,906.

The options will be discussed, and next steps are expected to be decided at the next scheduled meeting of the Whittier Tech School Committee Feb. 13.

Newburyport, which led opposition to the Whittier project, is considering its own submissions to the state for the Rupert A. Nock Middle School and Newburyport High School. Newburyport School Committee members are considering a vote tonight.

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