School design bond to go before voters

BAR HARBOR — Voters will decide later this year on a $3 million bond request that would pay for further design work for a future overhaul of the aging Conners Emerson School.

The Town Council voted Tuesday to place the bond question before the voters in November. The Bar Harbor School Committee recommended removing the Conners building and replacing it with a two-story addition onto a renovated Emerson building. The entire project is estimated at $42.5 million.

The idea would join all the grades and administration into one building and meet future program needs with flexible configurations of educational spaces, according to school officials. It would also create a new layout on the school property, which experiences traffic logjams at student arrival and dismissal.

The Conners building is 70 years old and the Emerson building is 10 years its junior. Both are subject to leaky roofs, inadequate insulation and space. There’s a constant worry that the boiler system and other critical infrastructure could go at any moment.

“I set foot in that Conners building in 1956 and it doesn’t look a heck of a lot different,” said Jeff Dobbs, the council chairman.

School officials have also raised security concerns with having two separate buildings on the campus.

The council took a tour of the school earlier this summer and several members said on Tuesday that they understood the need but were hesitant with the price tag. The council could have placed a bond request for the whole project, but members balked at that and instead elected to split the bond into two, starting with the $3 million in design work and leaving the remaining $39.5 million for another day.

“I just feel a little exposed and I think that maybe we’re at a point where we need to let people vote on a $3 million bond,” said council member Joseph Minutolo.

But there was no doubt in his mind that work was needed.

“You go down through Conners and it’s like, ‘Oh my God.’ This place is tired,” he said. “Something does have to be done.”

Council member Erin Cough, who also said that the work was needed, raised concerns about what the project, among several other big-ticket items on the horizon, could do to the tax rate. She also worried that if voters shoot down the future construction bond question, this $3 million bond, if approved, for engineering would have all been for naught.

School officials were appreciative that the council backed the design proposal and the bond question, acknowledging that the full ask could be daunting.

“It’s an extraordinary ask and we’ve known that this whole time,” said school committee member Kristina Lasquardo. “We’ve been doing the work and we know how difficult it was to support.”

Ethan Genter

Ethan Genter

Former reporter for the Ellsworth American and Mount Desert Islander, Ethan covered maritime news and the town of Bar Harbor.

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