Haverhill is Failing to Plan for Equity in School Facilities

This post is about equity in our school facilities across the district and how planning is needed to make it happen. My immediate concern is the pending Consentino School project.  In 2014 the city came together to support a new Hunking School in Bradford, with expectations that comparable updates to other schools (on the north side of the river) would follow.

However, we now see signs that the City plans to do the Consentino project without much thought to system-wide planning and do it on the cheap. 

First, the Haverhill Capital Improvement Plan for 2018-2022 allocates only $4 million to the Consentino project.  That $4 million number for Consentino is only a fraction of what the city spent on the Hunking School project. See first chart. 

A second chart shows what Massachusetts communities typically spend on projects of different types (in municipal funds).  The most extensive model school projects average more than $30 million in just municipal share of funds; new construction is at $27 million; additions and renovations average $18;  and major repair projects average about $7 million. This is in line with the City’s report on the estimated total (state and municipal) cost of Consentino repairs.  The bar on the far right, shows the $4 million the Haverhill’s capital improvement plan allocates for Consentino. This is clearly unrealistic. While other amounts might be under discussion, we have no other public number for planned spending so far. This reflects the fact that Haverhill has done no real planning for what we want.

Second, no one is considering long-term system-wide plans for equity or cost efficiency.  The announced Consentino School Building Committee is not constituted for such purposes. It seems to be just an administrative extension of the Mayor’s office. Most of its members work for the city.  It lacks experts in planning and architecture; it does not include a representative set of school committee members; and the proposed committee lacks any community representation.  

Third, the Mayor has said that two school projects could be funded without a debt exclusion or override vote.  But why would we want today’s taxpayers to pay the full cost of schools that will be used for the next 50 years? If he is assuming costs are so low we can pay cash, he must be assuming very modest repairs for Consentino.

These signs all point to a Consentino project where the priority is to spend little, rather than make Consentino comparable to Hunking. If we want equity in school facilities across the district, the School Committee will need to stand up and make its voice heard on Consentino, and plans for the future.