BAR HARBOR — A new idea is being tossed around as a committee explores options for renovating or rebuilding the aging Conners Emerson School: Build a new school on Park Street, on part of the area currently used as athletic fields and a tennis court.
“If we are going to build a new school, why don’t we consider building it at the Little League fields?” Jeff Dobbs, who chairs both the Town Council and the town Parks and Recreation Committee, said last week in an interview. He noted that property is near the downtown area, the YMCA and athletic fields.
The town’s school board formed a School Improvement Committee in June, to assess options for renovating or replacing the school buildings.
Joe Minutolo, a town councilor and member of the committee, proposed the idea of building a new school on the Park Street site to the group last month.
The 6-acre parcel of land proposed for building is owned by the town.
An adjacent parcel of land is used for soccer fields and a skate park. This parcel was deeded to the town to be used as athletic fields, and therefore not open to development.
School Improvement Committee members were receptive to exploring the idea, adding it to the four ideas already under consideration, according to committee member Kristi Losquadro, who is also chair of the Superintending School Committee. The most popular of the options, Losquadro said, is to tear down the older Conners school building which currently houses grades K-4, and build an addition onto the newer Emerson school building to house the entire school.
“The focus has been primarily on a renovation or new building at the current Conners Emerson site,” Losquadro told the Islander Wednesday. “We did review other possible locations [for a new school building], but thought early on that the ball fields were not an option due to restrictive deeds.”
Minutolo researched the deeds, Losquadro said, and discovered that the town’s Park Street athletic fields were “actually two separate parcels, one with restrictive deeds and one without.”
To determine if the idea was feasible, School Improvement Committee members met with Town Planner Michele Gagnon. They also met with the Parks and Recreation Committee on Monday, before the school board meeting.
According to Dobbs, the idea of building a school at the current Little League field parcel was well received at the Parks and Recreation meeting.
The committee passed a motion “to recommend to the Town Council that it investigate the possibility of constructing” the school at that location, he said.
The proposal will be on the agenda for the Oct. 15 council meeting, according to Dobbs.
Architect Carla Haskell is making preliminary mock-ups of a building plan for the Park Street parcel to present at an Oct. 23 meeting of the School Improvement Committee.
At the school board meeting Monday, some questioned the timing of the new idea. Board member Dwayne Bolt called it a “suggestion in the eleventh hour,” after other options had been vetted by the public in a community meeting last May.
Board member Robin Sue Tapley, concerned about getting a bond issue on the ballot, said, “I would ask that the [School] Improvement Committee go back to other options without this hiccup. I feel like we cannot keep kicking this down the road.”
The cost estimates on renovation and construction from last year are already out of date, school system Superintendent Marc Gousse noted. “The longer the [planning] process goes, the more it will cost,” he said.
Losquadro told the school board that the option for building a new school on the current Eagle Lake Road site was now estimated at $43 million, up from the $32 million previous estimate. Building a new school on the Park Street parcel has not yet been estimated, she said.
“The window is tight, but it’s not closed” for getting a bond issue on the ballot for Town Meeting next June, Gousse told the school board.
The School Improvement Committee is made up of school board members, school personnel, and community members. The committee does not have a designated chair, but the agendas are prepared by Principal Barb Neilly, Losquadro and Haskell.
Losquadro said the committee is large and “members have come and gone,” but the core group is around 17 members who have met through the summer assessing the four different concepts. The committee has also met with the fire and police chiefs to discuss school safety, and visit other newly renovated or rebuilt schools in the area.
After discussing the new idea of moving the school to Park Street on Oct. 23, Losquadro said, the School Improvement Committee “will be ready to give a recommendation to the School Committee [in] late November at the earliest.”