BAR HARBOR — Acquiring the land could be the least expensive part of building a firefighter training facility at Mount Desert Island High School for the island’s four fire departments.
Three of the island’s fire chiefs met recently with Howard Colter, superintendent of the MDI Regional School System, along with school system business manager Nancy Thurlow and Sandy McFarland, chairman of the high school trustees.
They talked about locating a training facility on about three acres of high school land that the fire chiefs have tentatively identified as suitable for that purpose. The chiefs and school officials agreed that an outright sale might be a better option than leasing the property.
“With a sale, it would be clear that the school is not responsible,” Colter said, referring to the issue of liability.
Since the fire training facility would directly benefit the same towns that jointly own and operate the high school, Colter said the sale price likely would be “nominal.”
Still to be worked out are how the four towns would divide the cost of building the training facility and who would be responsible for operating and maintaining it. One idea being considered is for the four towns to jointly create a separate firefighter training district or association to be responsible for the facility.
But the next step, the fire chiefs said, is to hire a site surveyor to make sure the property they are considering is indeed suitable for a training facility, which would include a “burn building,” and ideally, a small classroom building.
Mount Desert Fire Chief Mike Bender said he is getting price quotes for such a survey. He said at last month’s meeting of the Acadia-area League of Towns board that he assumed the four MDI towns would each pay part of the survey cost.
But Dana Reed, Tremont’s interim town manager, said he thought the League of Towns should bear all or most of the cost, depending on how much it is.
“That’s why we assess dues, for services to member towns,” he said.
Nine area municipalities belong to the League.
Currently, the nearest facility where firefighters can practice fighting interior structure fires and rescues is in Ellsworth. The four MDI fire chiefs have said the fire departments on Swans Island and the Cranberry Isles, as well as in other nearby towns, would be welcome to use the facility that they hope to build on MDI.
Dexter Lee, a Swans Island selectman, said at the League of Towns meeting that he didn’t know if his town’s fire department would take them up on that offer.
“If you’re going to go off and spend the night and do training, it’s easier to go to Ellsworth and stay in a motel and do your shopping and do your training as opposed to coming to Bar Harbor,” he said.