Trustees faulted for lack of action

BAR HARBOR — Members of the Mount Desert Island High School Board are displeased with the school’s trustees – a separate body with responsibility for buildings and grounds – for not approving renovation projects in time for them to be done this summer.

The biggest project is the replacement of windows and exterior walls in the school’s academic wing, which were installed improperly 15 years ago and now leak during rainstorms.

Principal Matt Haney told the School Board Monday night that there are two reasons the project has been delayed until next summer.

“One is that we got a late start on deciding which [projects] we were going to do this year, and that was because it took several tries to get a quorum of trustees to make a decision,” he said. “Then when they made that decision, it took several tries to get a quorum to approve bids. And by that time, we didn’t have enough time to get the project done.”

The other project that was to have been done this summer was a redesign and renovation of the area around the entrance to the gymnasium. Haney said that also was delayed because of difficulty getting a quorum of trustees to make decisions.

“We’re in really bad shape when it comes to major capital projects,” he said.

The Board of Trustees is supposed to have 12 members, three each from the four MDI towns. A quorum, the number needed to conduct official business, is seven.

For a time this year, there were only seven trustees. So, if even one was absent from a meeting, no action could be taken.

With the recent election of Mia Thompson of Mount Desert and David Campbell of Tremont, there are nine trustees. Two Tremont seats and one Mount Desert seat remain vacant.

If no one files to run for a seat, or if someone receives write-in votes but declines to serve, it is up to each town’s board of selectmen or town council to appoint someone to fill a vacancy.

High School Board Chairman Ingrid Kachmar said she is frustrated that the projects originally scheduled for this summer are being put off for a year.

“We look at this facility, and it’s a lovely school, but we need to maintain it properly, and we need to make sure we have the things we need,” she said. “The system is broken the way it’s operating currently, and we’ve got to figure out a way to fix it.”

From time to time over the years, various school officials have advocated eliminating the Board of Trustees and transferring its responsibilities to the High School Board. School Board members again raised that idea Monday night. However, that would require action by the legislature to amend the 1963 law that created the high school’s governance structure.

The School Board agreed that Kachmar should meet with Sandy McFarland, chairman of the trustees, and then write a letter to the trustees suggesting a joint meeting to discuss concerns.

“I agree with having a meeting, and I think part of it would be for us to stress to [the trustees] that it’s critical that they get the work done because it’s starting to affect education,” School Board member Eric Henry said.

Steve Hudson, a Southwest Harbor representative on the Board of Trustees, said Tuesday that he thinks that body serves an important function and should not be disbanded. He said the School Board already has enough to deal with and might not be able to give maintenance and construction the attention it deserves.

“By keeping the trustees separate, it keeps maintenance from becoming something that does not have equal status with the education process,” Hudson said.

Asked what can be done to solve the problem of vacant seats on the Board of Trustees, Hudson said, “It’s the responsibility of the selectmen in the towns where these positions aren’t filled to find somebody to do it. It’s not the trustees fault that things aren’t getting done.”

Hudson challenged the idea that the lack of quorums at trustees meetings was the sole reason that the renovation projects initially scheduled for this summer are on hold. He said the original cost estimate for the walls and windows replacement project was incorrect and that the bid process was confusing.

The trustees had budgeted $244,177 for the leaky walls project, but the low bid was more than three times that amount. Architect Mike Sealander, who designed the project, told the trustees at their May 16 meeting that because of a “math error” in his office, the cost of the project initially was underestimated.

But that wasn’t the only reason for the cost difference. The scope of the project was expanded to include the replacement of additional walls. And Sealander said that a couple of the companies that submitted bids had no experience with certain aspects of the type of installation required, so they inflated their bids to cover potential difficulties.

He called the bids “hokey enough” that they can be negotiated, potentially saving the school as much as $100,000.

Dick Broom

Dick Broom

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Dick Broom covers the towns of Mount Desert and Southwest Harbor, Mount Desert Island High School and the school system board and superintendent's office. He enjoys hiking with his golden retriever and finding new places for her to swim. [email protected]

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