Cost For Potential School Lowered By $3 Million

School Build Committee Holds Third Community Forum

BAR HARBOR—The third community forum for the Conners Emerson School Build Project focused on the draft designs and concepts of a rebuilt school that would replace the two failing buildings on site.

While there is still one report that the project committee is waiting for, Lisa Sawin, architect and principal with the Maine firm Harriman, said unequivocally, “We recommend a new building.”

The new building would add 26,000-square-feet of usable space over the current two buildings. The two buildings used now would be demolished.

Engineers and architects have walked the current school buildings and site with school staff. The reports show not only major needs for space and security and electrical systems, but a lot of leaks in the roofs, walls, corridors and in the library.

“Electrically, the entire building needs to be rebuilt,” Sawin said.  She said that they couldn’t address all the water infiltration without a rebuild.

Since meeting with the Town Council last week, the committee and Sawin have brought the estimated $67 million cost down by $3 million. She hopes that via fundraising and design tweaks to bring that number down more.

At that Council meeting, Council Chair Valerie Peacock said, “A lot of the time, we talk about school as the heart of our community, but when it comes to budgets, we talk about schools as the drain of our community. You would never say that we’re not going to have roads or we’re not going to have electricity or internet. These are fundamental parts of the fabric of our community. It’s our responsibility to educate our kids.”

School Board Chair Alexandra (Lilea) Simis said that she was hopeful that the committee can find some outside funding.  She said the school was the best investment the community could make.

Currently, the library is closed because there was an air quality issue that led to the investigation of one of the walls. They found plant debris behind the drywall, according to Principal Heather Webster. They are in the process of putting up plywood and a bookshelf in front of that area and hope to continue the fix in the spring.

“Leaks in the library are not uncommon,” Webster said. Food storage is actually outside the building. One of the boilers broke this fall and had to be replaced.

“There is no status quo. There is no way to keep our kids safe, be energy efficient, and teach our kids,” Board Vice Chair Marie Yarborough said. They were almost at the point where they couldn’t have school because of issues with the boilers, she said.

“Things will keep failing you’ll have to just replace and replace and replace,” Sawin said.

“We can’t stay in this building, right?” Yarborough said, stressing that there is no “doing nothing” if the town wants to have a safe environment for the students and staff and the rest of the community that uses that space.

Superintendent of Schools Michael Zboray said that conversations happened a number of years ago. In 2018 they were looking at similar models and asking the same questions, he said. “The need is still there and will continue to be there.”

In the draft, the potential new school building would be placed in between the current buildings. Communal activities would happen off the main corridor or “main street” of the building, separating public spaces more often open to the community and private spaces for instruction.

“We are using every space in this building as a learning opportunity,” Sawin said.

If the voters approve the project, the construction would occur in phases to ensure the safety of students and staff. Fall 2026 would be the first time the students would occupy the new school. There would still be site work continuing throughout that next year. That site work would be completed in fall 2027.

Despite the incoming storm, several people attended the meeting at the school cafeteria and more than a dozen attended on Zoom. Grace, 9, expressed that she missed the library. She wants to grow up and be an artist and an author. To do that, she said, she needs a good school. Other comments included the building’s proximity to Rodick Lorraine and the privacy of the classrooms. That side of the building is actually the gymnasium and there are other outdoor buffers between the lots. The project is simple to make solar ready and conversations about sustainability are also occurring.

If approved by voters, the project would be financed via municipal bond and also fundraising. Grants for sustainability aspects are also being looked into.

The group is looking for volunteers for the communications committee and fundraising committee.

To volunteer  for fundraising, contact Simis at

To volunteer for communications, contact Kristi Losquadro at 


The website, click here.

For our last article about the cost and structural issues, including photos and more information click here.

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