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December 17, 2018

Sizeable customer base seen for Maine Maritime Academy's new training center

COURTESY / MAINE MARITIME ACADEMY
COURTESY / MAINE MARITIME ACADEMY
A rendering of the firefighting training facility to be built at the Maine Maritime Academy's Center for Professional Mariner Development that's being planned for Bucksport.

With 26,000 commercial mariners transiting the East Coast coastal and inland waterways at any given time, Maine Maritime Academy expects there will be a sizeable customer base for its new Center for Professional Mariner Development at the former Verso paper mill in Bucksport.

The center will be well-positioned as the only one of its kind in New England, the academy's president, William Brennan, told the Bucksport Town Council last week.

Maine Maritime Academy, in Castine, signed a purchase-and-sale agreement in November with American Iron and Metal, owners of the former mill property, to buy six acres, which includes a two-story building that was formerly the mill's employee development center.

The center would provide state-of-the-art training for undergraduate students, professional mariners and workforce development. The center will meet the demand for highly specialized courses that enable professional mariners to receive certification and credentialing to meet maritime regulatory and industry-sector demands. The center will be a public-private venture.

Unique in New England

There are about two dozen facilities in the U.S. that offer aspects of this type of training, Brennan told the council. But only a handful offer the full suite of training that the new center would offer. None of that handful is in the Northeast.

The 26,000 mariners who regularly transit Northeast corridors are part of the 1.4 million mariners throughout the world who are subject to the same regulatory requirements and also add to a potential customer base, he said.

Brennan explained the background to the center.

"The academy has maximized its opportunities in the town of Castine," he said. "We cannot expand, yet we're still in many respects a business, so we do have to find ways to grow and increase revenues. So that led us to look for ancillary forms of revenue that are mission-appropriate."

Recent changes in federal law compels licensed mariners to upgrade and renew their certifications on a frequent basis, he said. The academy realized that, not only would many of its graduates have to go through recertification, but licensed mariners throughout country and maybe throughout the world would also have to do so on a frequent basis.

Ideal location

The center's mission is aimed at those who are in the workforce. The academy first looked at property it already owns in Penobscot.

"But attributes of the Bucksport property, especially utilities already available, made this an ideal location," he said.

The academy is in the due diligence phase of the purchase.

"It's going quite well," he said. "We hope to be able to close on the property by the early part of the new year."

Establishment of the center in Bucksport has personal meaning, he said.

"Many of my family and friends and, certainly, family and friends of employees at the academy, were devastated when the mill closed down," he said. "I want to send a message to the folks in Bucksport that change can certainly be positive and a college could really see potential to locate on that site."

The academy envisions expanding its continuing education program onto the site by late spring or early summer, and offering additional classes by the end of 2019, he said.

Growing base

The academy's continuing education program has 300 students and is expected to have 600 students in all for the school year, Brennan said. The center is anticipated to draw 800 students in its first year, 1,150 in the second and 1,500 in the third. At full operation, the center is expected to draw 2,500 students, he added.

Brennan said the academy would contribute to the community of Bucksport by providing access for municipal fire department to its training facility and making available for municipal purposes part of the center's building that the academy won't be using, he said.

The academy would be interested in hearing from the council about potential additional collaborations, he said.

The center would also provide benefits to the town in terms of the housing that will be needed by students, and student use of amenities like restaurants, he said. Staffers will include a full-time manager and likely four or so contracted instructors, he said.

He said he envisions reaching out to Whole Oceans, which is also buying part of the site for its planned land-based salmon

The new training center will include classroom space, technology and equipment required for shipboard and land-based firefighting instruction, including a state-of-the-art firefighting area.

Course offerings will range from safety training to electronics and radar, to security, crisis management and other fields.

Maine Maritime Academy is a co-educational, public college offering programs of study in engineering, management, science and transportation. The college serves approximately 950 undergraduate and graduate students in career-oriented degree programs. The job placement rate for MMA graduates exceeds 90% within 90 days of graduation, according to its website.

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