School looks at town’s new building as overflow option 

TREMONT Adhering to rules regarding COVID-19 and in-school instruction can be tricky, but rules surrounding a school using a building for academic instruction can be just as tricky. 

During a discussion about the school possibly using the building known as Pacific Hall at a recent Board of Selectmen meeting, concerns were raised by the town’s fire chief and Planning Board chairman. Following the discussion, all five selectmen voted in favor of showing their support to the school for exploring Pacific Hall as an option for future use.  

“There is not a direct need at this time,” said Jamie Thurlow, chairman of the Board of Selectmen, during the meeting. “I don’t see any issue with having them explore it. I would like to give them the chance to look into it.” 

Town and school officials have toured the building at 737 Tremont Road several times to see if it could work as a prekindergarten and/or overflow building as the school maneuvers the pandemic. Residents approved accepting the building from Morgan Churchman, who offered it free of charge to the town, via ballot article at this year’s annual Town Meeting vote.  

“I appreciate the school thinking ahead,” said Mark Good, chairman of the Planning Board. “I think there’s some issues here. I can see a hang up in the parking.” 

Limited parking at the Pacific Hall site, which was used as a temporary location for the Bass Harbor Memorial Library over the last year and a half, was discussed on several occasions by selectmen in considering whether to accept Churchman’s offer of the building.  

“You guys knew there was a parking issue there,” Good pointed out, after reading parking guidelines from the town’s land use ordinance. 

According to Town Manager Chris Saunders, in the most recent version of the town’s land use ordinance approved at the July 14 vote, one parking space is required for every classroom and one space per every employee. It is questionable whether more than six vehicles could park safely at the location. 

“If the school decides this is something they seriously want to pursue, they would have to do a study,” said Saunders. “I think the school is the expert on how to outfit a school building. I would defer to them.” 

Although the building was recently used, Fire Chief Keith Higgins said he thought it would take at least a year for it to be up to proper code for school use.  

“As the fire chief for the town, that building is not set up for children,” said Higgins during the discussion. “The library moved in there in haste. It was non-conforming and it shouldn’t have even been allowed.” 

Room at Tremont Consolidated School is already at a premium and rules for proper social distancing between students and staff are pressing space to its maximum. To accommodate properly spaced out classroom instruction, there have been outdoor spaces on the campus turned into classroom settings.  

“(Tremont Consolidated School) is located in a breathtaking location and our outdoor classroom only adds to the natural beauty,” wrote Principal Jandrea True in a newsletter to families at the beginning of September. “We look forward to sharing this space with students upon their return.” 

School officials decided to forego beginning the prekindergarten program proposed for the 2020-21 school year once the pandemic hit. There were concerns about the ability to fund the startup costs of the program that would have been at least a $70,000 addition to the budget.  

“This whole use for the school is pretty premature,” said Higgins. “I think the town needs to see what they can do with the building before you have the school take over.” 

Good pointed out there may be requirements from the Department of Education to use the building and suggested portable classrooms added to the current campus may be a better solution. 

“I believe they have money set aside to do the inspection that has to be done,” said Thurlow about the school meeting with proper authorities to assess the building for use. 

“I’m not comfortable shutting the door on that option,” said selectman Kevin Buck. “I’d like to let them see what obstacles they might run into.”  

Attempts for comments from school officials on this subject were not answered.  

Sarah Hinckley

Sarah Hinckley

Former Islander reporter Sarah Hinckley covered the towns of Southwest Harbor, Tremont and neighboring islands.

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