Bar Harbor officials are exploring whether to build a new elementary school on the site of existing downtown athletic fields and facilities near the corner of Park and Main streets, and they want to find out if there is enough room for the fields and a school.
On Tuesday, the Bar Harbor Town Council voted 4-3 to spend $14,000 on a feasibility study to see if physical limitations or other restrictions might prevent the construction of a school in the existing grassy area across Park Street from the local YMCA. There are two Little League fields, a general-purpose ballfield with baseball diamonds and soccer goals, a small basketball court, two tennis courts, skateboard ramps and a parking lot on roughly 13 acres at the site.
For months, local school officials have been looking into options for either improving or replacing its existing K-8 school, Conners Emerson, which sits on a 10-plus acre lot on the corner of Eden Street and Eagle Lake Road. The options considered by school officials have focused on renovation or rebuilding at the current school site.
Local school officials have said that over the past 20 years, various fixes and improvements at the school, which consists of two separate and aging buildings, have cost $2.7 million. The buildings are not energy efficient, require frequent roof repairs, and lack more modern education features such as spaces for small groups or one-on-one instruction.
Town Councilor Joe Minutolo said last week there could be advantages to building a new school on Park Street. Construction would not disrupt students at the current school, he said, and there could be benefits to some of the school’s programs by having it located next to the YMCA and the ballfields, where some students participate in local swim and baseball teams.
Whether it makes sense to move the school, Minutolo said, now is the time to find out, before the town invests millions more at the current school site.
“No matter the decision, this is a one-time deal,” Minutolo said.
Kristine Losquadro, chair of the local school board, said Friday that a committee looking into building options has not ruled out building an entirely new facility on Park Street. The $14,000 feasibility study will help determine how and where some of the recreational facilities that currently exist at the ballfields might fit in around a school building, she said.
But, she added, the cost of building something brand new on an undeveloped site would be the most expensive option. Such a building could cost between $40 million and $60 million, whereas estimated costs for options floated for the current school site on Eagle Lake Road range between roughly $10 million and $32 million, she said.
And, Losquadro added, all of that likely will have to come out of the pockets of Bar Harbor property taxpayers. The Maine Department of Education has told local school officials that because the Bar Harbor project would not involve the consolidation of multiple schools, the state will not help fund the project.
Town Councilor Matthew Hochman said Tuesday that, while he believes the town should consider all options for improving its school, the process of deciding which option to pursue should be left up to the school committee and, ultimately, to the voters. He said he was concerned that the council’s vote Tuesday to further study the Park Street site could interfere with the school committee’s work on the matter.
Plus, he added, he does not think there is much support for building a new school where the ballfields are.
“I’ve not heard anyone in favor of this,” Hochman said.