Island community building may be renovated

Posted Aug. 14, 2009, at 7:47 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 30, 2011, at 11:59 a.m.

CRANBERRY ISLES, Maine — Though it has been well maintained and a small library wing was added on and then expanded in the 1990s, the Neighborhood House on Little Cranberry Island hasn’t changed much since it was built in 1913.

The 96-year-old community building might be significantly renovated and expanded next year, however, if island residents and the association that owns it decide to pursue some proposals solicited from a Bar Harbor architecture firm.

The Islesford Neighborhood House serves a variety of functions for the island, which is part of the town of Cranberry Isles. The books and high-speed Internet signal at the library draw patrons throughout the year, while the building’s kitchen and stage help to entertain and feed island residents at functions such as plays and weddings. Schoolchildren get exercise in the gym, which also serves as an auditorium and dining hall, and the building has been used as a movie theater by film buffs. There is a ladies parlor and upstairs is a large performance studio.

But one important thing it lacks is heat. According to Bill McGuinness, the association’s executive director, the pipes have to be drained in the winter and the schoolchildren have to wear their coats for gym class.

This doesn’t mean the building is considered to have a lot of deficiencies, he said.

Little Cranberry Island has fewer than 100 year-round residents and several hundred in the summer, when the building gets most of its use. The goal is to make the building more versatile.

“The basic improvement remains, making it a year-round facility,” said McGuinness, whose position is funded by the Rockland-based Island Institute. “It’s used fairly well [now]. There are times when if it was designed better it would get more use.”

So to help plan how the building might be improved, in June the association hired A4 Architects of Bar Harbor to help come up with a few possible designs. The firm came up with three, all on display at the Neighborhood House, he said. The designs are just ideas at this point and could be reconfigured or combined somehow depending on whatever eventual final design, if any, the association decides to pursue.

Improved bathroom facilities are high on the wish list, according to McGuinness, and several other features also are being considered. Raising the gym-area roof to make it more basketball-friendly is one option. So are adding a wireless Internet user area, exercise space, renovating the kitchen and getting it licensed for commercial use, expanding floor space in the gym-dining function hall, building a second-floor projection booth for showing films, and adding a telemedicine room where island residents can consult in private with health care officials over the Internet.

“I don’t know if there is anything that is guaranteed,” McGuinness said.

One thing that is for certain is that it will cost money to improve the building.

McGuinness estimated the final proposed design could cost anywhere between $500,000 and $1 million to achieve. The association hopes to raise the necessary funds through foundations, state and federal money, and from private donors, he said. If the renovated building is designed to serve as an emergency shelter, he said, Homeland Security funds could be available.

“We probably wouldn’t ask the town for any money,” McGuinness said. “We don’t want to put any [extra] burden on the taxpayers.”

Besides, he added, the town already contributes money each year to the building’s operating expenses. According to McGuinness, the association would like the renovation and expanded building to be as environmentally friendly as possible, but there is a good chance that cost concerns will prevent the association from seeking to have the renovated building certified by any environmental assessment organizations.

If the association can raise enough money to pursue whichever final design it chooses, he said, it hopes to begin renovations in the fall of 2010.

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