December 06, 2019
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Bar Harbor’s K-8 school project could cost up to $32 million

Bill Trotter | BDN
Bill Trotter | BDN
The main entrance to the K-8 Conners building at Conners Emerson School in Bar Harbor, which was built around 1960. Local school officials are developing options for renovating or replacing the building, and perhaps the Emerson building as well, that have preliminary estimates ranging from nearly $10 million to $32 million.

It’s early in the planning process, but at this point, Bar Harbor residents can expect that any renovation or replacement of the town’s K-8 school will cost somewhere between $10 million and $32 million.

Bar Harbor has spent $2.7 million over the past 20 years on fixes and improvements at Conners Emerson School, which consists of two, unconnected school buildings on an 11-acre site on the edge of the town’s downtown village. Rather than just continuing to spend more money on maintaining the aging buildings, local school officials said Tuesday that they’ve decided to take a serious look at whether the town should significantly renovate or replace them.

Barbara Neilly, principal of the school, said that local officials would like to improve the energy efficiency of the buildings, which have outdated boilers, poor insulation and have had their windows replaced — sometimes more than once.

In February, a leak in a sprinkler system flooded the Emerson building, she said, and the roofs of both buildings need frequent attention.

“We’re always doing roof repairs, and it’s pricey,” Neilly told a group of roughly 50 parents, staffers and town officials who gathered Tuesday night at the school.

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Another issue is how services at schools have changed in the decades since the buildings were constructed in the late 1950s and early 1960s. School staff spend more time one-on-one with students than they used to, but the buildings were not designed for those kinds of services, she said.

“We lack small-group spaces and collaborative spaces,” Neilly said. Approximately 350 students are enrolled now at Conners Emerson, she added, and that number is not expected to change much anytime soon.

School officials presented four undetailed options at the meeting. The least expensive option, which would involve substantial renovation but no additions to the two existing buildings, is projected to cost $9.6 million. The most expensive option, which would involve demolishing the existing buildings and replacing them with a single larger one, is projected to cost $32 million.

Another includes building an 18,000-square-foot addition onto the 36,000-square-foot Emerson building, which serves older students and fronts on Eagle Lake Road, and renovating both the Conners and Emerson buildings, all for a total estimated cost of $20 million.

The other option would involve demolishing the 28,000-square-foot Conners building, which serves younger students and was built with a wooden frame, and replacing it with a 45,000-square-foot addition onto the Emerson building. That option is projected to cost $25 million.

[Two small Hancock County island towns want to keep their high school, despite declining enrollment]

The three preliminary options that involve new construction would result in the school having approximately 80,000 square feet of total space, or about 17,000 square feet more than the two buildings together have now.

There has been recent discussion among school officials on Mount Desert Island about whether they should build a consolidated, islandwide middle school, but Bar Harbor officials said Tuesday that developing consensus on that option, and then planning and building such a school likely would take several years, and that Bar Harbor cannot wait much longer to make substantial improvements at Conners Emerson.

“We have to do something sooner rather than later,” Neilly said.

Neilly and other school officials took a straw poll of people at Tuesday’s meeting to determine how they felt about the preliminary options. Most expressed support for replacing either one or both buildings, and for designing a facility that could provide other uses to the community, such as programs for seniors, regardless of whether Bar Harbor and other MDI towns decide at some point to consolidate their middle schools.

Bar Harbor school officials plan to further refine the options through the summer and to hold a meeting in September to update the public on what is still being considered. The goal is to submit a final concept design and project budget to the Bar Harbor Town Council by the end of the year, they said.

Watch: Hike the Kittredge Brook Forest in Bar Harbor



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