SOUTHWEST HARBOR — School Superintendent Marc Gousse, Pemetic School Principal Rhonda Fortin and Town Manager Don Lagrange are set to meet and discuss the next steps for the reconstruction of the school playground.
At a special meeting held on March 7 following the Board of Selectmen’s decision to postpone the playground funding vote, Southwest Harbor School Board members requested that Gousse arrange the meeting.
“I think the town is exercising due diligence, making sure all the questions are answered,” Gousse told the Islander last Thursday. “There’s a lot of good people doing some great work, and I think it’s time for Don and I to sit down with the principal and see what we can do to get this project across the finish line, or at least to the voters.”
“We just want clarity,” said board member Ingrid Kachmar. Since the School Board first presented the project to selectmen last September, she added, the Board of Selectmen has changed and added to their list of requirements several times. At this point, the School Board is unclear on the information it has to present to the town for the project to move forward.
At their meeting, School Board members also authorized the superintendent and principal to use the funds that were raised for the playground project to cover some of the expenses related to the Board of Selectmen’s demands.
The deadline to put the issue on the May ballot has passed, but the board members hope that with clarification from the town manager as to what the full requirements are and with the approval to use existing funds, the project could be presented to voters as early as June.
“The playground is in disrepair, it needs to be replaced,” said Gousse. “There’s going to be some things from a safety perspective that we have to address right now.”
Some residents who attended the Feb. 27 Board of Selectmen meeting suggested the school rebuild the playground using in-kind contributions.
“It has always been our plan to approach people within the community who may be able to offer their services to reduce the costs of the project, but we’re not going to do that until we know the project is going forward,” said Kachmar.
School Board member Dani Piquette-Kelly, who has been steering the playground plans and fundraising efforts for at least two years, said the board had to ask the town for the full amount because “we can’t assume that people are going to donate in kind.”
“I think we’re now past the point of those types of efforts,” said Gousse. If the school is left to rely only on donations, he added, the project is not likely to happen in the near term.
Gousse also said that the playground’s central location in town means it serves more than just the school.
“It’s going to be a great community asset when it gets done.”