BAR HARBOR — The idea of moving the elementary school to the Acadia Youth Sports Little League ball fields will be pursued further, following a split vote by the Town Council to fund an architect study of the site.
Council voted 4-3 on Tuesday to spend an estimated $14,000 from the Council Contigency account to find out what a school and surrounding athletic fields would look like.
Joe Minutolo, a town councilor and member of the School Improvement Committee, proposed the idea of building a new school on the site to the group last month. School Improvement Committee members were receptive to exploring the idea, adding it to the four ideas already under consideration, and agreed to go before the town Parks and Recreation Committee to begin to explore the feasibility of building a school on a portion of the town athletic fields.
The Parks and Recreation Committee passed a motion “to recommend to the Town Council that it investigate the possibility of constructing” the school at that location, according to committee chair Jeff Dobbs, who is also chair of the Town Council. It was added to the agenda for the Oct. 15 council meeting.
“From a procedural standpoint, I think it was extremely inappropriate for any of this to come forward before the School [Improvement] Committee has even presented their recommendations yet,” said Councilor Matt Hochman.
Hochman continued, “I don’t think it should have come before Parks and Rec yet. I certainly don’t think Parks and Rec should have made a recommendation to Council on moving forward on any of this before the committee that has been tasked with coming to us with its recommendations have ever actually made their presentation.”
Councilor Erin Cough also had concerns about the process by which the issue came before council.
“The transparency that this council has created has really seemed to have reassured and created a trust again with the community, which is super important,” she said.
“The transparency that this council has built, to me, is really under question. There’s no transparency between what goes on at the school board, versus what seems to have been usurped to Parks and Rec, to now come in front of the council.”
Cough said that Dobbs serving as chair of Parks and Rec, while also serving as chair on Council, “is illegal” according to her reading of Chapter 31 of the municipal code.
Conners Emerson Principal Barb Neally and Bar Harbor School Committee Chair Kristi Losquadro were both on hand to talk about the process by which they were vetting this and other options. Losquadro told councilors that the request for funds to study this option further came from the school committee.
Councilor Gary Friedmann said, “I think that this is a great example of people pulling together to try to do some problem solving. I’m appreciative of what you guys have done.”
Councilors Stephen Coston and Cough both asked why the council should continue to study one of the most expensive options, which is building a new school. Other options under consideration are renovation and expansion of existing buildings.
“One of the worst things we can do in terms of making it affordable for people to live here is have taxes go up 16 percent,” said Coston. “And if we’re going to do a school at the ball field, it’s going to be a brand new school, which is going to cost as I understand it, $30 or $40 million. I’m not even sure that’s a real option.”
Councilors Friedmann, Dobbs, Minutolo, and Judy Noonan voted in favor of allocating $14,000 for architect fees to explore what a school on the site would look like. Coston, Hochman, and Cough voted against.