Fire training site study released

BAR HARBOR — A firefighter training facility could be built on a site at Mount Desert Island High School, according to an engineering firm’s study of the property. But some school officials are skeptical.

A CES engineer and environmental scientist evaluated the site, looking at soil type, location of ledge and wetlands, wildlife habitat and water supply. They concluded that it is “generally suitable for the intended development.”

The island’s four fire chiefs have said they would like to build a centrally located facility where members of their departments could train together. The facility would include a “burn” building where firefighters could practice fighting interior fires, a parking lot for fire trucks and personal vehicles and, ideally, a small classroom building. It is estimated that all that would require about four acres.

The CES study focused on a 20-acre parcel bordered by Eagle Lake Road, the Mount Desert town line and the high school’s entrance drive and baseball field. The parcel, much of which is forested wetland, is bisected by a cleared corridor for Emera Maine power lines.

“It appears that the upland area south of the … athletic field is the most suitable location for the proposed facility,” Roger St. Amand and Sean Thies of CES wrote in their report. “While this location provides the most useable space, it is generally shallow to ledge in many areas, and topographic conditions may require rock removal to establish working areas.”

School officials and members of the high school’s board of trustees, which is responsible for buildings and grounds, discussed the CES report at the trustees’ meeting Monday night.

Principal Matt Haney and trustee Mickey Shattow expressed concern that the most likely buildable site is high up on the property, both in elevation and proximity to the baseball field.

“There’s not much woods between that and the field,” Haney said. “I was kind of hoping it would be down lower so we wouldn’t be able to see it from the school.”

Athletic Director Bunky Dow noted that a cross-country trail runs through the area identified for possible development.

“If we ever wanted to expand … I think there’s a group looking to try to get a more feasible cross-country course on high school grounds,” he said.

Given that, trustee Mike McKee said, “We don’t want to close the door on something that this school might want to do in the future for the students. That’s the first priority.”

Trustee Steve Hudson said the fire chiefs need to do more research to see if building a training facility on the high school site really is feasible.

“I think they’re going to have a hard time proceeding with this because the area they’ve got to work with is very, very small and jammed right up against the power line,” Hudson said. “I don’t think it’s going to be practical, regardless of what the [CES] report says.”

In April, the high school trustees unanimously approved a memorandum of understanding with the Acadia-area League of Towns in which they tentatively agreed to lease land for a fire training facility, provided it was deemed feasible. It was understood that the lease price would be nominal; the sum of $1 a year was mentioned.

Trustee Michael Sawyer, who was elected to the board in May, expressed concern about the cost to MDI towns of developing a training facility. He said that even if the high school trustees agree to provide the land, “You’re talking about putting line items in town budgets that we’ve never had before. It would ultimately have to go before town voters.”

Sawyer, who lives in Southwest Harbor, said he had spoken with some of that town’s selectmen about the fire training project.

“They said that just because they had approved the money for the feasibility study, that should not be taken in the sense that they are totally on board with this project, because there are so many unknowns. We haven’t seen any costs associated with it yet.”

The $2,000 cost of the CES study was borne by the League of Towns, whose nine municipal members pay annual dues. None of the MDI town boards have taken any votes or approved any funding for the study.

The trustees agreed to invite the island’s four fire chiefs to their Dec. 11 to further discuss the possibility of building a training facility at the high school.

Dick Broom

Dick Broom

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Dick Broom covers the towns of Mount Desert and Southwest Harbor, Mount Desert Island High School and the school system board and superintendent's office. He enjoys hiking with his golden retriever and finding new places for her to swim. [email protected]

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