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Whittier Tech could find new home at Haverhill community college

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Schools

The proposal could expand funding sources beyond communities in the Whittier Tech district, where voters recently balked at the cost of repairing the school or building a replacement.

The front entrance of Whittier Tech in Haverhill. Nathan Klima for The Boston Globe, File

Months after voters rejected plans for a new $444.6 million Whittier Tech vocational school, Gov. Maura Healey’s administration says it’s considering a shared campus model that could land the high school a new facility on Northern Essex Community College’s Haverhill campus. 

The Healey-Driscoll administration announced Thursday that state leaders are in the early stages of exploring a shared campus model for the community college and Haverhill-based Whittier Regional Vocational Technical High School.

Officials said the partnership would “explore ways to create a new, modern facility for Whittier Tech, allow for expanded access to postsecondary education across northeastern Massachusetts, and increase enrollment capacity at both institutions and make them more affordable.”

The collaboration could also expand funding sources beyond communities in the Whittier Tech school district, where voters balked at the high cost of bringing the existing facility up to code or building a replacement. Following a failed Jan. 23 referendum, the Whittier Tech School Committee removed the new facility plans from the Massachusetts School Building Authority process and forfeited millions of dollars in state funding.

“Our administration knows that a new, modern facility is needed for Whittier Tech, but we also understand the communities’ concerns about cost,” Healey said in a statement. “This potential collaboration between Whittier Regional Vocational Technical High School and Northern Essex Community College aims to meet the needs of our students and communities in an efficient, affordable and innovative way.”

Whittier Tech’s 1,279 students hail from 11 member communities: Amesbury, Haverhill, Newburyport, Georgetown, Groveland, Ipswich, Merrimac, Newbury, Rowley, Salisbury, and West Newbury. In a statement, Whittier Tech Superintendent Maureen Lynch said the new campus proposal “has the potential to be truly transformative for our school and our economy.” 

Northern Essex Community College President Lane Glenn noted that the two schools have been collaborating successfully for years already. 

“With better paying jobs requiring some kind of postsecondary education and training, exploring an innovative shared campus model has tremendous potential for students, families, communities, and the regional workforce needs of the Merrimack Valley,” Glenn said.  

The boys’ locker room at Whittier Tech shows its age. – Nathan Klima for The Boston Globe, File

Healey said the state will meet with local officials and stakeholders in the coming weeks to solicit feedback and provide information about the shared campus vision. However, the early response from state and local leaders seemed promising. 

“​​This is welcome and exciting news and suggests potential to substantially advance this regionally significant initiative in a creative way,” said West Newbury Town Manager Angus Jennings. “Whittier Tech is fundamentally important to our region, yet its governing document — a 1960s-era Regional Agreement — has created obstacles to solving the well-known deficiencies in the school’s physical plant.”

Newburyport Mayor Sean Reardon — who was vocal with his concerns about how municipalities would foot the bill for a new Whittier Tech — said he was “cautiously optimistic” about the high school’s potential partnership with NECC.

“I know this is a successful model used around the country,” Reardon said. “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, NECC, the Commonwealth and all eleven cities and towns.”

In his own statement, Ipswich Town Manager Stephen Crane also noted flaws in the regional agreement between Whittier Tech’s member communities. Notably, the agreement divides the high school’s capital costs based on the total number of school-aged children in each community, meaning cities and towns with lower Whittier Tech enrollment could end up bearing a larger share of future building costs. 

According to Crane, the proposed partnership with NECC is a “perfect opportunity” to revisit regional vocational school agreements. 

“The widespread support for vocational education, combined with a new paradigm involving community colleges, could give students more learning opportunities while providing additional resources to cities and towns,” Crane said. “It could redefine ‘win-win.’”





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