School building goal coming into focus

BAR HARBOR — “There’s no easy answer” to the question of when, and how extensively, Bar Harbor should renovate or replace its aging elementary and middle school facility, the school’s principal said Monday.

It’s a difficult question for two reasons. One is the sticker shock: The town will need to spend between $13 million and $46 million in the next few years on the buildings, depending on how extensive the renovation is.

The other is the looming question of school consolidation. Mount Desert Island towns will have a straw poll question on the warrant for Town Meetings this spring whether they support continued planning efforts for a combined, district-wide middle school.

If voters agree to the significant tax increases associated with a bond issue for the Bar Harbor school building project, they may be less willing to fund construction of a combined middle school building a few years later.

A School Improvement Committee which has been working with architect Carla Haskell to review options for the Conners Emerson School buildings presented its work to the school board Monday afternoon.

“We’re picking a direction here,” committee member Brian Booher told the school board. “It isn’t a signed, sealed, delivered plan.”

The committee recommends a complete renovation and expansion of the Emerson school building, currently used for the middle school grades, at the uphill portion of the school property. The Conners building would be demolished, bringing the whole school into one building.

The slab and walls of Emerson would remain, Haskell said, but everything else would be new. It’s such an extensive renovation, she said, that the expected life of the building would be comparable to a new one. The total cost of this option is up to $40 million.

The bond question for Conners Emerson is expected to go to voters in November. But first, the school board will hold a workshop Feb. 24 at 4 p.m. in the school library, at which they hope to agree on a recommendation to bring to the Town Council.

“We’re paying the money one way or the other,” Booher said, noting the cost of deferred maintenance of the existing buildings keeps rising. “It’s just do you want to do it in a planned fashion or an unplanned fashion.”

CORRECTION: The print version of this story misstated the cost range ($13 million to $46 million) of the building options discussed by the School Improvement Committee. The Islander apologizes for the error.

Liz Graves

Liz Graves

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Former Islander reporter and editor Liz Graves grew up in California and came to Maine as a schooner sailor.

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