BUCKSPORT — The former Verso paper mill site is proving an attractive prospective business partner thanks to its location and utilities.
Maine Maritime Academy is revisiting plans to move its continuing education services to a portion of the former Verso mill site near an area that has been proposed for land-based salmon farming operations.
“We’re in the process of negotiating with the owners,” said MMA President William Brennan on Tuesday.
Brennan said the idea is to generate revenue to lower the reliance on tuition at MMA.
“The genesis of this whole thing is my desire to offset the cost of tuition by developing an ancillary enterprise to generate revenue to push back into the institution,” Brennan said.
“Anything I can do to generate a revenue source beyond tuition to pay for operations will help me reduce the cost of tuition,” Brennan said. “My fundamental desire is that any student who wants an MMA education, regardless of circumstances, can afford to attend Maine Maritime.”
AIM Development owns the mill property. The MMA continuing education center would be housed in the former mill’s training center building, which is a two-story brick building.
The Center for Professional Mariner Development, which would offer recertification services for professional mariners, could be open before the end of 2018. MMA would move its existing continuing education services from campus to the center, said spokeswoman Jennifer DeJoy.
“I’d like to think of offering our existing continuing education classes in this new facility before the end of the year,” Brennan said.
Another driver for the new continuing education center is changes last year to the internationally mandated Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping, which requires more recertification for mariners.
But, continuing education would be just one piece of the Bucksport project.
MMA also is exploring construction of a computer-operated firefighting training building near the training center.
Municipal fire departments could benefit as well, Brennan said.
“Professional mariners but also our undergraduate students are required to get firefighter training as well to get a license,” Brennan said. “That’s a cost we incur renting a facility in Ellsworth. Eventually we would be able to make this available to municipal fire departments.”
Specifics about the proposed facility are unavailable because MMA is still discussing the project with potential vendors.
Brennan said he hopes the firefighting facility could be ready by next spring.
“Could be sooner than that,” he said.
MMA had considered building the firefighting facility on school-owned land in Penobscot.
“To develop the property in Penobscot would have had some fairly significant costs just to bring in the utilities that would be necessary including the power to run it,” Brennan said. “This mill site has all of that.”
The mill site also is closer to transportation networks, he said. The school wants to “capitalize on 15,000 mariners who transit through this Northeast corridor on an annual basis.”
The campus in Castine is not large enough to accommodate the firefighting facility.
“Clearly, we aren’t going to be able to expand our footprint within the town of Castine proper,” Brennan said.
The center will be a public-private venture.
“At this time, we have $750,000 pledged in private contributions toward an estimated $2.5 million for the technology and equipment required for shipboard and land-based firefighting instruction,” DeJoy said. “A phased approach will ensure that we can steward the finite resources MMA has to devote to the enterprise while simultaneously cultivating private funding.”
How’s the state of the institution otherwise?
“The simple answer is things are going great,” Brennan said.
“This is a career-oriented institution,” the president said. “Our placement rate continues to be very high. We have a strong incoming class.”
MMA’s placement rate continues to be over 90 percent for its graduates within 90 days of graduation.
The academy is a public, co-educational college with approximately 950 students engaged in engineering, management, science and transportation study and fieldwork.