Another Boiler Breaks at Conners-Emerson School as Committee Looks For Building Project Support

Halloween Parade Happening on October 28

BAR HARBOR—Another boiler broke at the Conners-Emerson School on Monday just in time for cold weather and mere hours before Brian Booher presented to the Bar Harbor School Committee for the town’s Task Force on the Climate Emergency about the Town Council’s goals and plan for zero emissions for the town by 2030.

During the meeting that was held at the school’s library, one committee member pulled her coat around her as participants discussed the current state of the school, the town’s desire for zero emissions, and their own newly broken boiler, which would cost $150,000 to $200,000 to replace. Principal Heather Webster is waiting for estimates on the cost to repair and also for a state inspector to examine both of the school’s boilers which were installed in 1989. Even the working boiler has issues and is in need of repairs.

From the school’s new building project page

The problem facing the school committee and the taxpayers is what to do when expensive and necessary parts of the buildings and their systems break when the building itself needs to be overhauled, committee members said. The boilers are perfect examples of that especially if the town is working toward greener options by 2030. Booher said the fire department installed a heating system using fossil fuels in the last few years.

“That would potentially have to be replaced to get to zero emissions,” he said.

“There’s no reason to continue to fix what’s here when it’s falling down around us,” Committee Member Robin Sue Tapley said, but she wasn’t recommending that the heating system not be repaired, just commenting on the futility of the situation. The boilers are essential to the heating systems of the school. Also on Monday, one of the bathrooms had to have work done on a plugged piping system and that likely resulted in the file storage room flooding again, Principal Heather Webster said. Webster is currently checking how much is in the reserve fund to pay for the boiler’s replacement or repair. Because of the current system, heat pumps are not a possible alternative.

Tapley asked Booher if the town’s task force was behind the school rebuild/renovation. The logic would be that doing the repairs in pieces as systems continue to break will most likely be much more expensive and time-consuming and less green than having a more encompassing rebuild or renovation.

“We’re behind reducing greenhouse emissions,” Booher said and added that he would bring it to the task force.

Even something relatively simple such as putting solar panels on the schools roof seems unlikely because the roof is leaking and needs to be fixed. Booher said the school was a major player in the town’s push to reduce fossil fuel use and get to zero emissions. That’s because of the heating oil use for the buildings, the inefficient systems, lack of insulation, aging structure, number of people in the buildings on weekdays, as well as the diesel-fuel school busses.

From the Conners Emerson Building For Our Futures site (linked below)

Committee member Marie Yarborough said that because of all of the building’s issues and disfunctions, “there’s no way you’re going to get to zero emissions with the school.”

Committee members asked how much the town would save if the building was actually insulated and using solar and not burning oil. Booher did not have an immediate number but hoped that it could be determined.

The Bar Harbor School Committee hopes to get a referendum for the schools rebuild or massive renovation on the June 2023 ballot. Chair Alexandra Simis said that that they are trying to work more collaboratively with the new council chair, Valerie Peacock, and new town manager, Kevin Sutherland.

“A lot more conversations are happening than used to happen and that’s a positive,” she said.

From the Conners Emerson Building For Our Futures site (linked below)

Yarborough worried about having the town council and other committees and task forces thinking of the school as something separate from the town, which is partly because of the budgeting process, but is reinforced by language, she said. “As a town, which I would say the school is one of the most important (parts) of the infrastructure we have here,” which Yarborough said is hard to convey to other town committees. “The school is always separated out, but we’re really part of the whole big shebang.”

One committee member said, “Everybody thinks about cruise ships and tourism and pot shops and we need to be thinking about our kids.”

“This is a need. It’s not a want,” Webster said about the buildings’ repairs and rebuild.

Committee member Tyson Starling said, “Every year we wait, it gets more and more expensive.”

Last week’s community forum on the school’s construction project had about 18 people attending. Some town councilors and the town’s planning director were there. There is also a new website about the project.

Yarborough worried about how the school committee could reach out to town council members and community members who didn’t understand the dire situation at the buildings, specifically referencing the thought that the school population has decreased, therefore the schools should be smaller or have less needs or be consolidated with other island schools. The difference, she stressed, is that educational needs have increased with some students requiring multiple rooms for their education. Some of those educational needs are state mandated. It’s no longer the “cells and bells, a dead way of teaching” said sixth-grade teacher Christina Nicholson.

“A new building would also honor the quality of staff that we have here,” Nicholson said.

Webster agreed saying it’s hard to honor professionals when their office is a closet.

A new building or extensive renovation would also mean a building that was warm enough, safe enough, where file rooms aren’t flooded, boilers aren’t breaking, and roofs aren’t leaking.

Potential project timelines


In other news, the Halloween parade will happen this year and will be on October 28, a Friday.

“Our town needs to see our kids hopping around,” Yarborough said.

After a long COVID-19 hiatus where students ate in the classrooms, they are now back in the cafeteria. And the talent show is back as well.

“It’s another time when the community and families have a return to normal,” Nicholson said.


For information on the Bar Harbor School Committee, click here.

 For information on the Conners Emerson Building For Our Future project, click here.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s