Setback for school move idea; School board opposes study

BAR HARBOR — School board members decided not to allocate additional money to explore the idea of building a school on the town’s ball fields. The 4-1 vote happened after a long discussion at the board’s meeting Monday.

The Town Council had voted on Oct. 15 to spend an estimated $14,000 from a council contingency account to fund an architect study of the ball field site to find out what a school and surrounding athletic fields would look like, and whether the non-school public uses could fit on the remaining town property.

Despite that vote, the School Improvement Committee, which has been tasked with exploring options of renovating or rebuilding Conners Emerson School, cannot spend the budgeted $14,000 without approval from the School Board.

In discussion, board member Robin Sue Tapley pointed out that the $14,000 would only cover the architect study, not soil and water tests that would also be required before the idea is fully vetted.

“It won’t answer the question of whether the site is suitable,” Tapley said. “I don’t think the funds would be enough to get us where we need.”

“Every time the School Improvement Committee [asks for a study], there’s a team of engineers and architects,” said School Board Chair Kristi Losquadro. “At some point you have to say to the School Improvement Committee, ‘Time is money.’”

Superintendant Mark Gousse cautioned the group against taking steps that could seem to “devalue the group” tasked with vetting all the options of renovating or rebuilding the school. “If you do move forward with the vote, it will be very important to … share the rationale,” he said.

The vote not to authorize the $14,000 study was 4-1, with Losquadro casting the dissenting vote.

“I think this sends a message of what our opinion is,” said board member Dwayne Bolt. “Nobody’s asked us yet.”

Losquadro, who helps facilitate the School Improvement Committee meetings, said she would prepare a statement explaining the rationale of the vote before that group’s next meeting.

Committee member Joe Minutolo, also a town councilor, proposed the idea of building a new school at the town ball fields to the School Improvement Committee in September. The 6-acre parcel of land proposed for building is owned by the town, currently used as Little League fields and a tennis court. An adjacent parcel of land is used for soccer fields and a skate park. This parcel was deeded to the town to be used as athletic fields, and therefore not open to development.

The idea of moving the school “was just put out to see what the appetite is,” Minutolo said at the council meeting. “There’s enough people, I think, that think that this is not a bad idea that that’s why we kept going.”

School Improvement Committee members have been receptive to exploring the idea, adding it to the four ideas already under consideration, according to Losquadro. The most popular of the options, Losquadro said, is to tear down the older Conners school building which currently houses grades K-4, and build an addition onto Emerson school to house the entire school.

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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