Conners Emerson School Library Still Closed As Group Looks to Decrease School Rebuild Costs
BAR HARBOR—Board members and administrators sat amid art supplies and stools for the Bar Harbor School Committee, Tuesday. It wasn’t by choice. The committee met in the Conners Emerson art room because the upper building’s library was still closed to the public because of structural issues. Drywall in the library’s walls had gotten wet and the school is putting up plywood as a temporary solution. That repair is estimated to cost $10,000.
Even without the worry of wet walls, two ceiling tiles came crashing down in the library this past week. The organic material smell is back and the room is being tested for issues today, Wednesday, February 7. There are 22 leaks in the roof. Principal Heather Webster said that ice slides down and tears the roof, which was already in need of repairs.
In good news, the school’s recently repaired boiler is up and running. Due to the cold weather, it’s been running constantly and is working well. The second boiler has also been working. The duo of old boilers heat the schools and one broke down this fall, costing the school $153,000 for its repair. She added that putting in the new boiler felt seamless due to the quality of the contractor.
The concerns over the building’s systems and needs seemed especially apparent as the board met around the art tables. To access the art room, board members had to walk past a closet being repurposed for non-closet issues. The cost of a school rebuild is currently estimated at $64 million, $3 million less than originally presented to the Bar Harbor Town Council. This was presented at the third community forum, January 26.
Chair Alexandra Simis said, “It’s great that people are engaging. I was excited that the third community forum was attended by quite a few more people.”
The firm in charge of the designs is evaluating the spaces and trying to find ways to reduce costs.
“We’re definitely doing everything we can,” Simis said. The council is getting many letters about the budget that it has shared with her. Often mentioned is the Department of Education recommendation for square footage per student, those numbers, she said, come from a 2015 document and the needs for students have changed in the past eight years. She said that the building committee needs to communicate to Bar Harbor residents and the council why the school needs the spaces that it does to meet state standards of education and take care of the students, staff, and larger community.
Vice Chair Marie Yarborough stressed that the town has to build to meet the needs the school has now and for the future, especially if there is eventually a pre-k class at the school. There is currently no space for that in the current buildings where there is a lack of special education classrooms and a closet is being used to teach.
Simis said, “I’ve spent a lot of time online looking at how other places fund our school.” She sees a recurrent theme of schools not taking priority in community funding. “There is funding for programs, but not for infrastructures.”
Even at the basketball game against Lamoine, which occurred at the same time as the meeting, there wasn’t enough space for everyone gathered to sit. Without sidelines, a ball to the face is a constant possibility.
The library is filled with programs and is not just about kids coming in for books. Board members worried about the potential to “nickel and dime” a new school building something that doesn’t meet the current need, let alone the future needs.
At the town council meeting Tuesday night, Councilor Gary Friedmann expressed frustration about not knowing if the bond request for the reconstruction or rebuild will decrease or if the voters will approve that request. He said he’d like to see the square footage decrease as well as the cost lower to something closer to $50 million.
To help spread information rather than misinformation, the school board spoke Monday of creating a questions and answers document and engaging the news media. Chris Popper of Townsquare Media is coming to do a walk-through of the building. Board member Misha Mytar praised the Mount Desert Islander’s last article, which included images of the draft proposal.
All images via Harriman presentation at community forum and to Town Council.
LINKS TO LEARN MORE
To read our most recent story about school costs, including photos and more information, click here.
For the school rebuild website, click here.
For our earlier article about the cost and structural issues, including photos and more information click here.
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