SOUTHWEST HARBOR — As winter becomes more real, skaters will soon be cutting through the ice on Chris’s Pond. Keeping them outfitted and cozy when they gather there is an unassuming warming shack.
Built by Pemetic Elementary School students under the leadership of art teacher Bob Sattler, the small wooden structure serves as a warming hut for skaters and snow sportsmen and women. His best guess on how long the shack has been at the town pond is about ten years.
“We built stuff and measured stuff,” said Sattler about the project. “[We] even worked on Saturdays. We got into it… It was sort of neat doing it.”
In the shack, there is also a substantial stock of skates hanging from the walls that have been donated over the years for those who come to play and don’t have a pair of their own.
Sattler said his father-in-law has packed suitcases full of skates to donate when he travels to Southwest Harbor to visit his family.
For taking off the chill, there is a small steel stove that was welded together by a local metal worker and donated for the shack. On the walls are photos of the students who took part in building the shack, as well as newspaper articles highlighting the process of preserving the pond for winter recreational activity.
When it came to building the shack, community businesses and organizations donated pieces for it.
“I don’t know where I would have gotten the money for it otherwise,” said Sattler.
In addition to their teacher, local woodworkers mentored the students in technique to create an original building.
“We’d meet with builders and figure out different parts of the project,” said Sattler from his classroom recently. “Everybody sort of pitches in … That’s what’s great about a small town.”
Making buildings was something Sattler did with his students who had a difficult time focusing on traditional art forms. A builder himself, Sattler figured a more hands-on creative project, one that included some engineering, would better serve these students.
In addition to the shack at Chris’s Pond, there is also a student-built snack shack on the Pemetic school grounds and a cabin that was donated to a local day-care center.
“I’m a builder. I’m a sculptor,” Sattler said Sattler. “I use tools, so I offer that to the kids as well.”
A native of the Midwestern US, Sattler came to Pemetic in 1982 as a part-time art teacher. He and his wife liked Southwest Harbor so much they settled in, becoming full-time teachers at Pemetic and raising their two children to adulthood.
When they were younger, the Sattlers spent lots of time on the ice at Chris’s Pond. Bob recalls an afternoon with music from a cassette tape player serenading the skaters as they flowed around the pond.
“I have great memories of that,” he said. “I have not had my grandchildren on it yet, but my daughter married a hockey player. They are skaters. I look forward to seeing them skate up there.”
His daughter Jessica was part of the Pemetic Problem Solvers, a group of student activists who campaigned to keep the pond a winter skating spot. Through a vote at an annual town meeting and collaboration with Maine Coast Heritage Trust to create an easement for the property, the pond is a town-owned entity.
“When you’re in fifth grade you don’t know you can’t do something,” said Sattler about his daughter.
Recently, the shack came before town officials as something to be addressed. An abutting property owner is in the process of selling a five-acre parcel and where the shack sits is within the right-of-way to the land.
“We built it [at the school] and hauled it down there,” said Sattler, who agreed to build the shack if someone else maintained it. “We knew we were on town property, that’s all we knew.”
Most recently, Town Manager Justin VanDongen told selectmen the shack may need to be moved just a few feet closer to the pond in order to open the pathway.
As the weather cools and the first snow falls, those who look forward to gathering at the social spot on south Main Street in Southwest Harbor will still have the shack to enjoy this season. Sattler still remembers the excitement of its installation at least a decade ago.
“We had the whole school come out to watch it,” he said about loading it onto a flatbed truck to be moved. “We set the thing. We lit a fire. We had hot chocolate and everybody skated and we had an afternoon up there.”