BAR HARBOR — After lying dormant for nine months because of – you guessed it – the COVID-19 pandemic, the process of planning a major expansion of the library at Mount Desert Island High School and renovation of the school’s science labs is being revived.
The school’s board of trustees voted Monday to reconstitute and reconvene two subcommittees that had begun identifying the specific needs that those two projects should address.
“We’ve been talking for a number of years about renovating our library, which is a perfectly great 20th century library – and we’re now into the third decade of the 21st century – so it’s time for that to be modernized,” Principal Matt Haney said.
“Our school building doesn’t look like it’s 50 years old in most places, but it does in that room.
“The basic idea is to expand the library to make it more of a classroom space, where you can have multiple things going on…more of a media center, more of a resource than just a place for books.”
Haney said the science labs were also very good 20th century facilities.
“But that’s not really what we owe our kids and our community at this point,” he said. “We need to make sure it’s a great learning environment.
“We also need to have a better use of space because we have one more science teacher than we have science rooms. I don’t know that we need to add a seventh science lab, but we do need to make the labs we have more adaptable for different types of classes.”
Haney said the heating and ventilation systems for the second floor of the science wing, where the labs are located, need to be upgraded, noting that “those are the originals from 1968.”
He said this is the right time to be planning the facilities improvements because the debt from the school’s last major expansion – the addition of the art wing and music room in 2000 – has just been paid off.
“So, we have been targeting this time to start looking at upgrading (the library and science labs),” he said.
School Superintendent Marc Gousse agreed that the trustees should proceed with the planning process. But he cautioned that there could be further delays or disruptions.
“We are in the middle of a pandemic; the times we are in are not normal,” he said.
“But we will get through the pandemic, and when we do, we are going to need things like the projects we’re talking about to give us hope and move us forward.”
It is unusual, if not unique, in Maine for a high school to have a board, in addition to the regular school board, that is responsible solely for the buildings and grounds.
That arrangement was written into the 1963 legislation that created a consolidated high school for the four Mount Desert Island towns. It gave the trustees board the authority to oversee construction of the school, as well as any future improvements and additions, and to borrow money for property and building improvements.
Over the years, some have suggested that the trustees are no longer needed, that the regular school board could handle those matters, as is the case in most school districts.
But Gousse said the trustees board plays a valuable role.
“It is unique; it isn’t something that I had ever experienced in my career in public education,” he said. “But in my experience, the MDI trustees have been a big asset for our school.”
Gousse said the trustees have provided vital guidance and support for several facility improvement projects in just the past few years.
“If you go around the state and look at some schools that have been constructed recently, they are in nowhere near the shape that MDI High School is,” he told the trustees. “We have a beautiful facility. It’s clean and well kept, and that’s because of the trustees.”
Haney said he, too, appreciates the different perspectives and the variety of expertise and experience that the trustees bring to their work.
“There is a wealth of knowledge and ability that Marc [Gousse] and I don’t have, so we appreciate being able to work together,” he said.
The high school trustees board is made up of three members each from Bar Harbor, Mount Desert, Southwest Harbor and Tremont.