Committee Unanimously Supports Four Land Use Ordinance Changes
BAR HARBOR—The last meeting of the budget season for the Warrant Committee had no members of the public attending though it involved recommendations about the proposed school construction bond and other items for the town warrant.
Bob Chaplin presented the education subcommittee’s 3-0 recommendation that the voters of Bar Harbor adopt Article 2, which is the new elementary school and a bond up to $58,538,288.
After much discussion, the Warrant Committee voted in favor of recommending voters adopt the bond 9-3. Chair Seth Libby, Caleb Cough, and Kathleen St. Germain voted against the recommendation. Bethany Reece, Allison Sasner and Meagan Kelly were not at the meeting.
FLEXIBILITY IN USE
Member Carol Chappell asked Conners Emerson Principal Heather Webster about the special education room plans flexibility in the proposed building. Webster said that they’ve met with those teachers about the quiet rooms and difference in lower grade needs and upper grade needs. This, she said, was taken into consideration for the flexibility. The spaces haven’t been designed, but locations and size were. At the moment there is a Sun Room for the younger rooms and quiet rooms for upper grades. Life skills would also be more centered on the first floor.
Member Eben Salvatore said the school was an example of a compound failure of the community. He said there were good fundraising opportunities within the town to help make it happen. He said that this is the third conversation about the need for a new school that he’s witnessed in the last decade and believes that the consolidation discussion is a diversion.
CONCERNS ABOUT COSTS
Libby said he wasn’t supporting the decision that night and it wasn’t because he didn’t support the school or teachers. He said he was cognizant of what the school has become. It certainly isn’t warm, safe, and inviting, he said and added that he didn’t want his no vote to be considered a lack of support for the school or teachers.
“I have not met one person who is simply opposed to this outright,” he said. “There is a deep concern about the price.”
He added that there is enough leeway in the bonds, but worried about what effect the bond would have on the taxpayers and what will the bond’s costs and tax burden might do to the socio-economic makeup of the town. He mentioned the recent property reassessment that hit downtown residents hard. Then the sewer bond impacted the users. Funding for the high school as well as a municipal budget increase of over 10% also impacts people’s taxes in a negative way. He said adding to the tax burden will not help the housing issues. He countered Salvatore and said consolidation was not a distraction, but a serious effort by the school superintendent. He felt there needed to be a deeper discussion about what to do at this juncture with the school.
St. Germain said that she is on the fence because of the expense and paying it back and what it costs fixed income people to pay it back.
St. Germain asked if the declining population was taken into consideration in relationship to student enrollment. She also asked if island wide consolidation was considered. They are steady at 330-345 even with housing being an issue in Bar Harbor, Webster said. The new building would also hold pre-K, which would bring them up to about to 370-375 students. Consolidation plans include the potential of losing some students to other schools, but also gaining students from those schools.
Member Caleb Cough said that there is a housing shortage and housing prices that are through the roof. He said because of that he isn’t sure who the school is being built for. He said he’s more in favor of consolidation than building a new school.
Secretary Chris Smith said that there are population bumps in kindergarten and third grade. They may be seeing a rise back in the school population in those trends. She said there is no crystal ball.
Webster said that even with consolidation there would always be a need for a school in Bar Harbor. Most of the consolidation plans include a Bar Harbor school. A potential plan for a school at the middle school addition to the current MDI High School hasn’t currently gained a lot of traction due to the site size limitations and the mixing of ages.
USE OF PARKING FUNDS TO HELP PAY FOR THE SCHOOL AND OTHER FUND RAISING POSSIBILITIES
Libby said that in the nine years he’s been on the Warrant Committee, the committee has always gone to bat for the schools. He said that parking funds can now be used, but most of them are already allocated. Smith said that some of the parking funds for things like support of the streetscape projects could be potentially diverted for a few cycles to help pay for the school. The town expects to have more parking meter revenue coming in due to a proposed increase in fees for the next budget. Those projections, if passed by voters, could increase the money coming in by a million dollars.
Member Ezra Sassaman asked about the amount of donors who might help reduce the bond. Webster said that the committee has gone to businesses and wealthier residents who indicated support but wanted to see that the voters support and approve the bond first.
There won’t be state funding or subsidy available for the school because that list is frozen, ten years long, and because the school is a minimum receiver, Webster said.
THE SCHOOL ITSELF
Webster said there have been several engineering reports done in the past seven years about the state of the school and its failing systems and structure. Due to water infiltration, the reports said that it would be best to build new buildings. Even using best practices to deal with water infiltration, the water is still coming in, she said.
Vice Chair Julie Berberian said that when she went to a meeting at the school earlier this week, the state of the building hit her. She said, “It’s really sad to me. It broke my heart and I only saw two bits of it and a hallway.”
Sinking money in every year feels insulting to taxpayers because there will have to be a bond at some point, but the town and taxpayers will have been sinking in money year after year until that bond passes. She said she supports the bond, but understands the gravity of it and how it could make it difficult for a lot of people.
“It’s tough,” she said. “It’s never going to feel easy.”
Berberian said that the bond will have an impact on people with fixed incomes. She also worried about how much more the construction will cost if they wait. Will it ever be affordable, she asked. She said that the community has to consider what it values and that the world they live in makes that difficult and expensive.
Member Louise Lopez said, “You plant a tree for shade for someone else, not yourself. You invest in children, not for now, but for later.”
Where someone goes to school and the school itself should match, she said, adding that the teachers, the students, the parent community, should be in a building as excellent as their effort.
“We should be meeting that effort in the same way,” she said and then referenced an earlier discussion about a school rebuild. “If I was a time traveler, I’d go back eight years and say ‘Do the $40 million.’”
Member Jeff Young said the school was not repairable. “This ship has sailed.”
“The town deserves it. The kids deserve it. This community is not going anywhere.” He said Bar Harbor will continue after the Warrant Committee members are long ago.
Chaplin said that he remembers and was involved in discussion about the school’s needs 15 years ago. “It’s time to stop talking about it and do it.”
The can got kicked down the road, he said, and it’s time for the community to stop kicking. Member Kevin DesVeaux agreed, saying that his own building’s cost for construction has increased by 43% in just five years. He said they had to rip the Band-aid off and get a move on.
Chappell said she believes the community will step up to help with funding. “The Conners school is not a school that can ever meet energy standards. It’s not a school that you can insulate. It’s built in such a way that it’s extremely wasteful,” she said and said that a vote to approve the bond would be spending money now to spend less money in the future.
Young said that the school is “so far gone,” and that housing prices are high and housing struggles are high. However, he said, “The town of Bar Harbor owes it to the kids to have a school that’s safe and clean. That school is really to me an embarrassment to this town. I don’t think we can wait another minute.”
In the end, eight other Warrant Committee members agreed. It will be up to the town voters this June to decide the fate of the bond and the school.
LAND USE CHANGES AND OTHER RECOMMENDATIONS
The first group of recommendations at the meeting were about the subcommittee recommendations and a whole Warrant Committee vote on multiple non-departmental articles. These were presented by Chappell. The committee unanimously recommended that Bar Harbor adopt the tax cap override, grants and donations, prepayment of taxes, tax due date and interest rate, overpayment of taxes and other like articles if required.
They also unanimously recommended that voters adopt all four non-budget articles to remove the double setback distances, remove the floor area ration requirement, remove the conversion to multifamily use requirements, and remove the requirement that all utilities be installed underground.
“They were put in as brake pedals for residential development,” Salvatore said. Salvatore was the only member to speak to the changes and said that the original reason for those provisions occurred in the early 2000s.
BLACK FRIAR INN AND AGENDA SNAFU
The Warrant Committee’s agenda was outdated concerning the Black Friar Inn proposed sale. DesVeaux alerted the committee members. Chappell had previously emailed the correct and amended article to the committee. The motion passed unanimously to support the selling of the land for $53, 295, minus $1,000, rent already paid and $600.00 paid towards appraisal, for a total of $51,695.00
Voters will decide in June whether or not to sell the 969-square-foot lot to Deborah Vickers and Steven Woitasek, owners of the Black Friar Inn & Pub.
The inn is located next to the town municipal building and now behind the bed and breakfast being built on Cottage Street. The couple have been renting the tiny lot for the last two years and have paid $5,500 in rent to the town.
There were no members of the public present. Webster and Code Enforcement Officer Angela Chamberlain attended.
Mrs. Edmondson’s Show Stoppers travelled to Millinocket last Saturday for the state show choir competition. The choir brought home a silver medal and an additional award for choreography. This was Mrs. Edmondson’s last year directing the Show Stoppers.
- April 14th Early Release Day
- April 15-23rd Spring Vacation/No School
- May 12th K-8 Science Fair/8th grade fundraiser Spaghetti Dinner/7-8th Art Show
LINKS TO LEARN MORE
For our recent article about the bond workshop, click here.
For the school’s building website, click here.
For the school board meeting and town council meeting about some of the same issues, click here and here.
To watch the meeting, click here.
For Tiger Talk, click here.
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