SOUTHWEST HARBOR — Selectmen Tuesday questioned the cost of a regional fire training facility and funding for a school playground but, in both cases, decided to consider the requests for funds during budget discussions in January.
Fire Chief Jack Martel was at the meeting to discuss money for the next phase of a proposed facility for training firefighters constructed on land next to Mount Desert Island High School. The need for such a facility was first discussed in 2011 by the Acadia-area League of Towns. Since then, Hedefine Engineering was contracted to develop a concept plan for a multi-use facility consisting of a “burn building,” classrooms and storage.
To date, Southwest Harbor, which is a member of the League of Towns, has contributed $3,750 to the project, Martel said. The total cost of the project is estimated at close to $2 million.
Martel said the next phase is to have Hedefine develop construction plans and specifications to send the project out to bid. This work is to include surveys, testing, permitting and architectural design. The town’s share is estimated at $42,550.
“I need to know if Southwest Harbor wants to stay with this,” Martel said.
Selectmen Dan Norwood was uneasy with the amount requested.
“This certainly would be a hit on a year’s budget,” he said, adding that there would be “another hit” to pay for construction, perhaps in the following year.
Selectman George Jellison observed that the cost and size of the project had grown considerably from when it was originally discussed.
“I don’t know if we can sell it to the town, Jack,” he said to Martel.
Norwood agreed, saying the cost is “three times what we originally talked about.” He said he was concerned about asking voters for the money.
Chairman Lydia Goetze had another concern. She wanted assurances that the training facility would not interfere with any future plans to build an islandwide middle school. While no concrete plans are underway, it has been suggested that the middle school be constructed near the high school.
Another issue involves how the town’s share of costs should be allocated.
One suggestion has been to use the same formula used to fund the high school. Last week, selectmen in Tremont voted to support the training facility and explore an agreement similar to that used by the League of Towns, where half of the funding is based on municipality’s population and half on its property valuation.
Selectmen asked Martel to get answers to their questions and present a more detailed funding proposal next month.
In other business, Pemetic school committee member Ingrid Wilbur Kachmar updated selectmen about the cost of a new playground designed for the school’s younger students and requested that the project be put before voters at the annual town meeting in May.
The $307,000 cost includes $49,000 for a retaining wall and $84,000 for a special surface making the playground more accessible for those with special needs. The school has already purchased $12,224 worth of swings, thereby lowering the cost to $295,000, Wilbur Kachmar said.
Wilbur Kachmar said the school committee feels that the extra cost of the accessible surface is worth the expense. She also noted it is a public playground, not just for use by the school.
Goetze reminded Wilbur Kachmar that earlier discussions about the town’s financial support of the playground project involved having voters approve using the town’s undesignated funds for the project.
“This amount is pushing right up against what I understand is available,” she said.
Goetze asked if the school had sought grants to offset the cost.
Wilbur Kachmar replied that Pemetic Principal Rhonda Fortin had applied for grants, but did not know the details.
Going to voters without knowing the outcome of any grant proposals didn’t sit well with Jellison.
“Personally, I have a difficult time putting this on the warrant for the spring without knowing what’s happening with the grants,” he said.
He acknowledged a replacement playground is sorely needed.
“The playground’s a mess, and we need a community playground,” he said. “We need to do it in steps.”
As with Martel, Wilbur Kachmar was instructed to bring the request to budget discussions next month.
According to selectmen, the playground funding would be a separate warrant article and voted on at the polls, not at the open town meeting.