SOUTHWEST HARBOR — After listening to school officials make a pitch for the town to help fund a new playground at the Pemetic Elementary School, selectmen on Tuesday directed the town manager to research how undesignated funds could be used for the project.
“I think, as selectmen, we should totally fund it if we have the money,” Selectman Chad Terry said after hearing the presentation. The playground, he added, is for the entire town, not just the school.
The equipment on the existing playground is 27 years old and in major need of replacement, school Principal Rhonda Fortin told selectmen. The school began fundraising a year ago and has collected about $32,300. Since then, school officials have learned that there are issues with drainage and a retaining wall must be replaced, she said.
Fortin said three bids for the playground and other work were requested. One contractor submitted a bid. The bid ranged from $162,500 to $269,000, depending on whether the playground surface is woodchips or a special rubber.
The playground, which is located between the outdoor basketball court at Harbor House and the school, once was a parking lot. Selectmen have been looking at ways to increase public parking in the town, which prompted Selectman George Jellison to ask if the playground could be located elsewhere on the school grounds.
“Any thought of moving the playground?” he asked. “This spot is ideal for parking.” There is room for 30 to 35 parking spaces, he said. “I just want to make sure we’re looking at all the options before we spend money.”
School committee member Dani Piquette-Kelly said the committee had considered moving the playground to the school’s outdoor basketball area near the entrance to the gymnasium and cafeteria. However, former school Principal Cathy Lewis told her that there would be a safety issue if the school had a fire. When questioned by Town Manager Don Lagrange, Piquette-Kelly said she didn’t know where Lewis got that information.
School committee member and executive director of Harbor House Ingrid Wilbur Kachmar objected to moving the playground, saying it “would change the dynamic of our afterschool program.” The playground is used by children in the program.
Selectman Ryan Donahue asked about grants or other sources of funding for the project.
“That’s a long shot,” Lagrange said. “My suggestion is that we can find the funds for this.”
Lagrange said voter approval would be required before any undesignated funds can be used for the project. He suggested waiting until December, when the annual audit is complete before proceeding.
School officials weren’t the only ones at the meeting looking for money. Philip Steel, the president of the Village Green Arts Association, asked selectmen to seek grants and other funding for his vision for a $1 million “beautification” project on Village Green Way that would include landscaping and lighting. Steel, who drew up plans for the project, said it is part of the organization’s proposed remodeling of the Legion Hall into a 200-seat theater.
Steel’s proposal wasn’t received as warmly as the playground project.
Chairman Lydia Goetze pointed out that much of Steel’s plan involves private property, and selectmen have no authority to determine what happens on these parcels. Also, she continued, “it’s reducing parking at the same time we’re looking to increase parking.”
Selectman Dan Norwood agreed.
“This is severely limiting our daytime parking,” he said.
Donahue and Goetze noted the Village Green plan limits access to both the police department and the Southwest Harbor Ambulance Service.
Steel argued that these problems can be solved.
The town is facing major infrastructure repairs, Goetze said, that take precedence.
“This doesn’t seem to meet any of our big objectives,” she said of Steel’s plan.
Public Works employee Scott Alley said the plan would involve more time plowing snow on Village Green Way.
“Maintenance is going to be outrageous,” he said.
Selectmen made no decision on the matter.