Jan. 20—HAVERHILL — Local businessman Ernie DiBurro has donated well over $1 million in recent years to Haverhill High School's athletics program.
Now, DiBurro, a member of Haverhill High's Class of 1952, is preparing to donate $1 million more to erect a building on the high school's campus that will house several indoor tennis and pickleball courts for use by students and the public.
"I've been very successful and I want to give back to the school where I was educated," he said.
DiBurro opened Academy Lanes bowling complex in Bradford in 1963 and along with family members he continues to run the business. He shows up every day for work as cheery and as bright-eyed as ever.
In recent years, DiBurro has donated money to renovate and outfit a fitness room at the Charles C. White Pool on the high school campus and has also paid for the construction of a large iron gate entrance to the school's athletic fields with cobblestone walkway and brick and steel archway. He also paid for fencing to secure the athletic fields and for lighting around the track.
In addition, DiBurro paid all costs associated with the electronic announcement sign at the front of the high school. He has also donated thousands of dollars in scholarship money.
More recently, he donated $800,000 to build and fully equip a state-of-the-art sports clubhouse at the stadium on Lincoln Avenue, bringing his total monetary contribution to Haverhill High's athletics program to about $1.4 million.
DiBurro is now setting his sights on an indoor tennis and pickleball complex and is contributing $1 million to the project. He said he is looking to begin construction in the spring.
"I'm an avid tennis player and I want these indoor courts to be available to the tennis team year round without the team having to cancel a match due to the weather," he said. "The mayor loves the idea, especially because the courts will also be available to play pickleball. All we have to do is make some adjustments to the lines and change the nets."
Mayor James Fiorentini said the city would likely cover any costs beyond the $1 million using its capital projects account.
"We think the million is going to cover it, but if it runs a little over we understand," Fiorentini said. "We're not going the ask Mr. DiBurro to pick it up, the city will pay for that."
School Superintendent Margaret Marotta said DiBurro's donation must still be formally accepted by the School Committee.
"I'm thrilled for our athletes and the community that we're going to have this great opportunity right here at Haverhill High, which has some of the best athletic facilities that are available," she said.
Principal Jason Meland said he wants the best for his students and student athletes.
"We are thankful for Mr. DiBurro for being able to provide this for our students," he said.
A former member of Haverhill High School's building committee that monitored progress in renovating the school, DiBurro also served on the Hunking School building committee that helped usher in a new Hunking, and is currently on the Consentino School building committee.
He says he knows what is needed to build an indoor tennis court building, which he believes can be erected on grassy land in front of the Charles C. White Pool on the high school's campus.
DiBurro expects the courts will be rented to the public to generate income for the school's athletics programs.
"The public could use it off hours and pay for their time," he said.
Athletic Director Tom O'Brien said the building would be a huge boost for the school's tennis program and will be the only indoor courts among area high schools.
"This will also allow our student-athletes to practice and play all year long and we will also be using it for our physical education classes for tennis and pickleball," he said.
The high school's tennis season runs from March to June and tennis happens to be a sport that gets canceled the most during inclement weather, O'Brien said.
"While other sports can play, even if it's raining, the tennis courts are just too slippery," he said.
"I don't know what we'd do without him as his generosity is second to none," O'Brien said about DiBurro. "And he really cares about our student athletes. Every contribution he makes he makes certain that student athletes benefit from it."