All three of the Pemetic Elementary School buses are stored at the Southwest Harbor Public Works garage on Seal Cove Road. Pemetic Principal Rhonda Fortin recently asked the town's Board of Selectmen if the school could be involved in discussions regarding construction of a new garage to be sure bus storage is part of plans for the building. ISLANDER PHOTO BY SARAH HINCKLEY

School wants in on garage planning

SOUTHWEST HARBORConcerned that school buses could get left out in the cold, Pemetic Elementary School officials have asked to be part of the town’s discussions regarding a new town garage.  

During a Board of Selectmen meeting on April 13, selectmen agreed to keep school principal Rhonda Fortin and bus driver Larry Alley in the loop on future meetings of the town’s Infrastructure Committee. That committee, composed of two selectmen, the town manager and resident Don Lodge, meets on an asneeded basis and is currently working on a proposal for the Board of Selectmen for a new garage.  

During the board meeting, Interim Town Manager Dana Reed asked Fortin what concerns she had with the plans for a new town garage.  

“In the latest iteration of the town garage, we’ve been told there’s no room for the buses,” said Fortin in response. “The town has spent a lot of money on those buses.” 

Currently, the school owns three buses. Before this school year, two of them ran regularly. This year, with distancing requirements, the school has had to run all three of its buses.  

“We currently store one bus outside at the garage,” Fortin wrote in an email to Board of Selectmen Chairman Kristin Hutchins in March, following a meeting regarding the town garage. “The bus that sits outside is faded and takes longer to warm up in the winter. With COVID, we are running all three buses for our regular routes. This increases the mileage on the third bus.” 

The public works garage on Seal Cove Road is insured for only liability due to the deteriorating condition of the building. Voters at last year’s Town Meeting turned down, by nine votes, a $1.8 million proposal to build a new garage at the site. After several conversations regarding a new garage among former Town Manager Justin VanDongen and the Board of Selectmen that seemed to end in a stalemate, an Infrastructure Committee was formed to come up with a plan to bring to voters.  

As a starting point, the Infrastructure Committee took another look at the $1.8 million plan and met with the contractor who had been awarded the bid for the job. The contractor offered to work with the town to find ways to save money but wanted to be compensated for his time and work if the plan was sent back out to bid. When this was reported to the Board of Selectmen, they agreed the committee needed to continue working towards a presentable solution, but one has yet to be brought before the board. 

Fortin also pointed out in the email to Hutchins that the school follows the state’s recommendation of replacing a bus after 10 years, as long as it has 125,000 miles on it.  

“Both of those requirements need to be met in order to qualify for state aid,” wrote Fortin. “(This) means we are buying a new bus every five years… We allocate $20,000 each year in the school budget for the bus reserve so that when the five years [are] up, we have money to purchase the bus without overburdening the tax payers in any given year.” 

She added two other thoughts to the email that were not discussed in her meeting with Hutchins, which were, “If the school and the town build separate garages, that will end up costing the taxpayers much more” and “A longer building created by having two bus bays equates to the ability to install more solar panels on the roof.” 

Sarah Hinckley

Sarah Hinckley

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

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