BAR HARBOR — The drive to build a training facility for firefighters on land at Mount Desert Island High School hasn’t flamed out, it’s just “slowly creeping forward,” according to Mount Desert Fire Chief Mike Bender.
He and the island’s three other fire chiefs hope to start speeding things up when they meet, probably in November, with the high school’s Board of Trustees, which is responsible for buildings and grounds.
In 2012, the fire chiefs began talking seriously about the need for a training facility on MDI, which would be more convenient for the island’s firefighters and, thus, enhance recruitment and retention of volunteers.
The training facility would include a two- or three-story “burn building” where firefighters could practice battling interior structure fires and rescuing victims, along with a parking lot and possibly a small classroom building. Currently, the nearest burn building is in Ellsworth.
In early 2014, the fire chiefs identified a three-acre wooded site, just off Eagle Lake Road at the high school, as a possible location for the training facility. An engineering and environmental assessment of the property in 2015 determined that the site was “generally suitable” for the proposed facility.
High school Principal Matt Haney expressed his support, and the trustees voted 6-1 in December 2015 to endorse the concept of having a fire training facility on school property. But since that was nearly two years ago, the fire chiefs now want to meet with the trustees to make sure they still support the concept.
Trustees Chairman Sandy McFarland said last week that he is still in support.
Bender said Eero Hedefine, president of Hedefine Engineering & Design in Ellsworth, is drafting a proposal for designing the project, estimating construction costs, getting the necessary permits and handling the bidding process.
Bender said the idea is to ask the elected officials of the four MDI towns to include money for Hedefine’s work in their budgets for the 2018-2019 fiscal year. Residents of each town will vote on those budgets next spring.
If the Hedefine expenses are approved, then the fire chiefs would ask him to prepare a detailed construction plan and budget.
“We would like to have a package ready for bidding about a year from now,” Bender said.
If the bid package seems reasonable to officials of the four towns, then the project and its associated costs would be presented to voters for approval in the spring of 2019.
Asked if the need for the fire training facility is as great now as when the fire chiefs first proposed it, Bender said, “I think it’s even more now. In the four towns, the numbers [of volunteers] are continuing to drop.”