Voters to decide on school project plans

BAR HARBOR — Voters will decide whether to spend $3 million at the town meeting to design, engineer and continue permitting for major rehabilitation and building additions at Conners Emerson School. 

Over the past 20 years, Bar Harbor has sunk a needed $2.7 million in repairs into both buildings, which serves kindergarten through grade 8 students. 

If the $3 million bond question is approved at the polls, it would signal the town’s support for funding a large school renovation project instead of gradually making repairs to the buildings, said Bar Harbor Committee Chair Lilea Simis. Voters would still need to approve the final concept and construction costs before physical work could begin on the estimated $35 to $40 million project. 

“What we’d like to do is put it out to bid, get an actual plan and then be able to come to the community to say exactly what it’s going to cost and what it’s going to look like,” Simis said. “It just feels like a more responsible process to not just ask for this huge amount of money and say it could be up to $40 million dollars.” 

Before COVID-19 hit, the school board was about to put the entire building project on the ballot, said Simis. The attention was then shifted to educating the students, so the project was put aside. 

Out of four options presented, the school board decided on tearing down Conners and gutting Emerson, Simis said. She said that the idea of renovations and the construction of a 45,000-square-foot addition to the middle school and a complete rebuilding of Conners was more cost effective than demolishing both. 

Estimated renovation costs could vary and will depend on the final plan that is chosen. 

Bar Harbor’s School Committee has been collaborating with Ellsworth-based architect Carla Haskell over the last few years to research building concepts and to generate a project overview. 

Upgrades would add insulation in the classrooms, fix leaking roofs, add gender neutral bathrooms, and upgrade heating, air circulation and plumbing systems. Space realized from tearing down the Conners building will allow room to redesign the school’s parking lot and create outdoor classrooms. 

The Conners and Emerson buildings currently have a shortage of space for special needs students and instruction, which the new middle school wing would house. A second floor added to the Emerson building’s north side would include a potential central courtyard. Construction would entirely strip this building to install updated heating and ventilation as well as convert the electrical system to operate with rooftop solar panels. Over the years, the school has used the gymnasium as an auditorium, which the new add-on would include, but the Emerson building’s school gym and library would stay. 

Recent discussion of creating an integrated, island-wide middle school has circulated in the community but hasn’t found any traction.  

“At this point, we don’t know what’s going to happen with an island-wide middle school and so we have to proceed as if that’s not happening,” Simis said.  

Whether or not the middle school students eventually attend an island-wide middle school somewhere else, a section of the updated Emerson building could provide space for future pre-K students and other programs in the community.  

“This referendum vote would cover everything that needs to be done before we break ground for construction,” Simis said.  

Voting will take place from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Nov. 2 at the municipal building’s third-floor auditorium.  

Ninah Rein

Ninah Rein

Writer at Mount Desert Islander
Ninah Rein, an MDI native, covers news and features in the Bar Harbor area. She is glad to be back in Maine after earning a bachelor's degree in San Diego from the University of California.
Ninah Rein

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