BAR HARBOR — The Bar Harbor School Committee laid out its recommendation for the future of the aging Conners Emerson School Tuesday. The Town Council is expected to talk about how it wants to proceed on a potential bonding request in the coming weeks.
The committee, after giving the council a tour of the two school buildings, recommended a concept that would remove the Conners building and replace it with a two-story addition onto a renovated Emerson building.
The idea would join all the grades and administration into one building – a safety and functional priority for the school – and meet the current and future programming needs with flexible configurations of educational spaces, school officials said. The school would also be able to reconfigure the property, which has experienced traffic woes when students arrive and at dismissal, as a whole. It would also be able to make the school’s green energy goals more attainable and provide a future lifespan of up to 40 years.
The school is currently dealing with old infrastructure and a lack of space to handle modern school requirements. The concern that the boiler system or other critical infrastructure could go at any time is also ever present.
The committee considered three other options, though none rated as highly as the renovation/addition plan. The first was deferred maintenance, basically fixing all the essential needs, the second was a renovation of the Conners building and the last was building an entirely new school.
A new school was estimated at up to $51 million and the recommended option, known as “Option C” was pegged at up to $42.5 million.
The latter figure is higher than the council had heard previously, a victim of inflation and rising construction costs, according to committee members.
The committee had voted to seek a bond for option C last year, but it was put off when the pandemic hit. Now the committee was looking to see if it could count on having the council in its corner when a funding request came up.
“We felt like this is not going to be successful if we don’t have Town Council and your committee’s support moving forward,” said Kristi Losquadro, a member of the school committee.
The school renovation question has been up for debate for years. Several council members expressed support for the school system and said that improvements were necessary.
“It’s obvious,” said council member Joseph Minutolo. “Something has to be done.”
But councilors seemed unsure if they could properly vet a $42.5 million bond in time for November. Some members seemed interested in moving forward with further design work on the project, which would be in the ballpark of $2.5 million, before trying to pass the full bond request. This work would need to be done, whether it be approved on its own or if the council decided to go forward with the full funding request.
Council member Erin Cough was in support of starting with the design phase and said that in that time, the island could also address the ongoing idea of an island-wide consolidated middle school.
School officials said if they do go the route of funding the design phase first, they should consider raising the size of the funding request to help cover any possible emergency repairs that might be needed in the meantime.
Tuesday’s meeting with the School Committee was a workshop, so the council could not take any official votes, but it expected to take up how it wanted to move forward with the school renovation project in the near future.