One of the four plans presented at Tuesday’s community meeting calls for the demolition of the older Conners building, and the renovation and expansion of the Emerson building to house the entire school. Other options involve renovating both existing structures, or taking down both buildings and constructing a new 80,000 square-foot school building. IMAGE COURTESY OF DGC ARCHITECTS

School renovation to cost $9- $32M

BAR HARBOR — Four options are under consideration to repair, add on to, or replace the aging Conners and Emerson school buildings at Conners Emerson School.

Bar Harbor residents filled the Emerson cafeteria Tuesday evening to learn about the four options, ranging in price from $9.6 million for renovation, to $32 million for a new building to house the entire school (currently grades K – 8).

Kristi Losquadro, chair of the school board; Barb Neilly, the school’s principal; Marc Gousse, the school superintendent were on hand to present the options at the public meeting, along with architect Carla Haskell

The first option, expected to cost $9.6 million, is to renovate the current school buildings. The Conners building was built in 1952, with the addition of four classrooms in 1958, making the building 67 years old, according to Haskell. Emerson, the middle school building, was constructed in 1962 with an addition built in 1994. The total area of the two buildings is 64,500 square feet.

Haskell said the first plan “truly focused on essential needs” to upgrade the buildings and not add any space.

The second option, expected to cost about $20 million, involves renovating the two buildings and building a new addition onto Emerson School, expanding the total area of the two building to 83,000 square feet.

A third option involves demolishing the older Conners building, and renovating and expanding Emerson. That plan, which could cost $25 million, would consolidate the two upper and lower grade schools into one 81,000 square foot building.

The final option, expected to cost $32 million, is to build a new 81,000-square-foot school building in the current athletic field, and demolish both the current Conners and Emerson buildings.

Neilly pointed out that the options involving expansion will provide needed space in what is currently a crowded school.

“We need flexible learning spaces,” she said.

The school system is in the early stages of exploring the possibility of an island-wide middle school.

However, Neilly said, “I don’t think that’s in our near future.” Meanwhile, she continued, “the state is mandating pre-K, so we need to look at adding a pre-K population as well. Pre-K through [grade] eight is what we’re most likely looking at.”

With the floor open for public comment, resident Peter St. Germain asked if the first option of renovating the aging school buildings would “outlast the bond” to fund the project.

“That’s a good question,” said Neilly. “We’ve had one major failure after another. I think you’re at the point now where you’ve really got some major decisions to make.”

Neilly gave a brief summary of building maintenance issues over recent years, including yearly roof repairs, replacing sewer lines, water pipes, windows, replacing the gym floor due to water damage, and elevator pit reconstruction and pumping due to water damage.

The heating and ventilation systems are due to be replaced, she said. Over the winter there was also a leak in the sprinkler system that caused a flood in the Emerson building, cancelling school for a day.

Gary Friedmann, who chairs the town council, noted that the more expensive plans “mean a 10 percent increase for tax payers.” He asked about the possibility of scaling down the square footage on new construction for a more modest cost.

Losquadro answered that there was a lot of flexibility to scale back or alter the options, because it was early in the process.

The next step, Losquadro explained, is to form a school improvement committee to review all plans and present a final proposal to the school board in September. There will be another community meeting after that, she said, to present the final proposal before it goes to a vote.

Becky Pritchard
Former Islander reporter Becky Pritchard covered the town of Bar Harbor and was a park ranger in Acadia for six seasons.
Becky Pritchard

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