School building bond request walked back

BAR HARBOR — A proposed $6.4 million bond for building repairs at Conners Emerson School is off the table for now. School board representatives told the Town Council last week that they wanted more time to evaluate options for the future of the school. Councilors voted unanimously to recommend a $350,000 increase to the school’s budget and not place the proposed $6.4 million bond on the warrant for the town meeting in June.

New options being considered are an addition to the Emerson building, millions of dollars of repairs to each building or a total rebuild.

The bond would have covered replacing two of the four boilers, replacing both roofs, maintaining the water main to Conners and updating the bathrooms.

The Town Council issued a recommendation to the Warrant Committee to increase the school’s budget by $350,000.

The new funding would be used for concept drawings of an addition, repairing a boiler coil, waterproofing a wall and roof patching.

Councilors, because they have tentatively approved the budget and handed it off to the Warrant Committee, cannot make that change until March 27 at the joint Town Council and Warrant Committee meeting.

Principal Barb Neilly and School Committee Chair Kristi Losquadro appeared before councilors to explain their request. Neilly said the aging buildings at the school will need a large number of repairs to stay functional over the next 10 years.

“The reality is, in the next 10 years, you’re going to be looking at a total of anywhere between $8.5 to $10 million,” Neilly said. “At that point, Conners is 85-years-old.

“Can you get another 10 years out of it? Sure. Can you get 20 years out of it? Probably,” she added. “But at the end of that stage, the 20 years, you really have got to look at something different.”

Neilly said resident Joe Cough approached school board members about an addition to the Emerson building. The short-term repairs would keep costs down for taxpayers immediately and give school officials time to review available options.

Councilor Peter St. Germain, who regularly attends School Committee meetings, said he was skeptical of the practicality of a multimillion dollar bond issue for upkeep of the aging Conners building.

“Physically, the Conners school is just woefully inadequate,” St. Germain said. “You’re gonna spend a whole lot of money on a building that, after $6.4 million, would still be inadequate for the needs of the school.”

St. Germain also said the estimate for an addition would be about $15 million. Neilly said a new school would be about $22 million.

Councilor Gary Friedmann raised the issue of consolidating Mount Desert Island schools, citing that schools in Tremont and Southwest Harbor are in good condition.

“Why are we thinking about putting $15 million into a new building when maybe we should be bussing our middle schoolers to Northeast Harbor or Pemetic?” Friedmann said. “The cost of bussing would be a fraction of what the cost of amortization of a $15 million bond is.”

Councilors favored a one-time payment on the short-term repairs.

The council mentioned bonding $235,000 dollars for replacement to the water main that serves the school, but no action was taken on that at the March 6 meeting. A bond was favored rather than a one-time payment because the water main would be beneficial to the town as well as the school.

“They just need to find out the urgency of that and whether the cost estimate is accurate,” Town Manager Cornell Knight said Monday.

Neilly said the replacement of the water line is necessary because the school has to flush pipes every week due to rust buildup. Water used by students and kitchen employees, though, is not contaminated by rust, she said.

“If that main goes, then we’re going to need to something immediate to get water into that building,” Neilly said. “It’s at the end of its life.”

Samuel Shepherd

Samuel Shepherd

Samuel Shepherd is a University of Maine graduate and a former Bar Harbor reporter for the Mount Desert Islander.
Samuel Shepherd

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