PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Construction got underway this week on the new $6 million wellness and student life center at Northern Maine Community College.
The planned 8,000-square-foot facility is the foundation of a campuswide commitment to student, faculty, staff and community health, according to Tim Crowley, NMCC president.
”This center will allow us to focus on the level of fitness we think our students and community need to have,” Crowley said. “The idea is to take a proactive [and] positive approach to wellness.”
The privately funded project is a combination of new construction and renovation of existing space.
With an anticipated opening date a year from now, the new Rodney Smith Wellness Center will feature a fitness area, exercise room and locker rooms, according to Crowley.
The Akeley Student Center, which will be located in the A.K. Christie and John L. Martin buildings, will house the campus health center, the campus store and an office for student organizations and serve as the new main entrance to the Christie Complex.
“We really want to create a cultural shift,” Crowley said. “No one ever got better because someone built a building, but if we can shift the focus to promoting more active lifestyles, we can make a big difference.”
Campus wellness promoters also will work with the school’s food service providers on nutrition and healthy meal options, Crowley said, and campus physical trainers and health practitioners will offer guidance on wellness and lifestyle options.
“If you look at the demographics in Aroostook County and the health issues, you see an aging workforce with health issues,” Crowley said. “Some of those health issues are related to not taking proper care of themselves like obesity and diabetes.”
Those health issues, he said, can affect the economic health of northern Maine.
“We feel the competitiveness of the workforce in Aroostook County is at stake,” Crowley said. “Our concern is if we don’t take a shot at correcting this trend, [people] won’t be able to perform at work, insurance rates go up and productivity goes down.”
The new center, Crowley said, will engage students, staff and community members by creating a welcoming atmosphere to begin and maintain a healthy lifestyle.
At the same time, the center will look to preserve a portion of the area’s past with inclusion of space for historical artifacts from the Presque Isle Air Museum honoring the connection between the old Presque Isle air base which once stood on the site now occupied by NMCC.
“Aroostook County has a rich history of aviation and the Presque Isle air base played a significant role in World War II,” Crowley said. “When the troops came home from Europe, this was the first stopping place.”
Many of those artifacts are on display at the Presque Isle airport, but the new NMCC facility will have dedicated space for those items.
Carrying the aviation theme one step further, the architects designed the roofline of the building to resemble an airplane wing.
The bulk of the funding for the new center came from a $5 million gift from Presque Isle native Mary Smith, Crowley said, who had previously made a donation to the school’s electronics program.
“We talked about other projects and she provided that $5 million gift to make this [wellness center] happen,” Crowley said. “She is really a wonderful person who gave us the chance to do this [because] otherwise we could not do it.”
The remaining $1 million was raised through local fundraising efforts, he said.
The construction bid was awarded to local contractor JP Martin & Sons who broke ground last week.
“We got a bit of an early start,” owner Jim Martin said. “We have started on some site work and hope to lay out the foundation soon and plan to work right through to next fall.”
NMCC officials anticipate an opening date the second week of April 2014.