With Healey Blessing, Whittier Tech Explores New Building, Shared Campus with Northern Essex

Northern Essex Community College Haverhill campus. (Courtesy photograph.)

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If tentative steps toward a “shared campus” with Northern Essex Community College continue, a new building may be on the horizon of Whittier Regional Vocational Technical High School.

The high school and college will “explore ways to create a new, modern facility for Whittier Tech, … increase enrollment capacity at both institutions and make them more affordable. It will also open up new avenues for potential additional funding sources beyond cities and towns in the Merrimack Valley,” according to a press release issued Thursday by Gov. Maura T. Healey’s office.

Northern Essex President Lane A. Glenn said the plan would increase collaboration already happening between the two schools, with Whittier Tech Superintendent Maureen Lynch praising the endeavor. To find a path forward, a representative of the governor’s office told WHAV, “we intend to convene legislators and municipal officials” from the 11 communities that send students to Whittier Tech.

The announcement comes a little over two months after the member communities rejected a rebuild plan projected to cost $444.6 million. Though officials estimated required renovations will end up costing taxpayers more, voters issued a resounding no—5,714 to 16,123—during a Jan. 23 referendum, as WHAV reported.

A representative of the governor’s office said this idea emerged after hearing from officials before and after the vote. The official wrote in an email to WHAV, “We understand that there were frustrations around the cost of the proposal and a lack of communication. We knew that there was a desire to explore alternative options, which is where the idea of a shared campus model originated.”

Asked by WHAV, no-voters cited concerns with the plan’s rollout, the belief tax money is needed elsewhere and the irrelevance of the school to their community. With 70% of Whittier Tech’s student body coming from Haverhill, the city was the only municipality reporting a majority of yes-votes.

Haverhill Mayor Opposes Newburyport Counterpart’s Plan to Reopen Whittier Agreement

Quoted in the press release, Newburyport Mayor Sean Reardon pushed for changes to the 1967 agreement that determines who pays for Whittier Tech. He was echoed by the town managers for Ipswich and West Newbury, Stephen Crane and Angus Jennings.

“Newburyport is committed to continue the work towards an amended regional agreement that hopefully will help pave the way towards a solution that is a win for Whittier, [Northern Essex], the Commonwealth and all 11 cities and towns,” he said.

Haverhill Mayor Melinda E. Barrett told WHAV Newburyport wants to reopen the original agreement either to leave the district or adjust the ways costs are split up. After member communities were told about the governor’s proposal at a meeting on Wednesday, she said she announced she would not support opening the charter, which requires a unanimous vote. She emphasized she was sharing the city’s position at the meeting, not casting an official vote on whether to amend the 1967 agreement.

During a Massachusetts School Building Authority meeting last December, Reardon challenged the Whittier Tech rebuild plan, as WHAV reported. The Authority received letters critiquing the plan from Amesbury, Rowley, Georgetown, Newburyport, Salisbury and West Newbury. Barrett told state officials she believed Reardon was attempting to change the funding formula established in the original agreement.

While Haverhill pays roughly the same percentage of the operating costs as the proportion of students it sends—70%—the city is charged with only 41.6% of capital costs, which would have included the rebuild. It has 15% of the representation on the Whittier Tech School Committee. Other communities fought to keep this formula in 1978, after Haverhill filed a federal civil rights suit alleging it paid too much for too little representation.

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