PRESQUE ISLE, MAINE — With a $5 million gift providing the bulk of the $6 million needed for construction, Northern Maine Community College on Tuesday broke ground on a new project to create fitness and student centers on campus.
Students, staff, college officials and guests gathered for the ceremonial groundbreaking of the Rodney Smith Wellness Center and Akeley Student Center.
The Rodney Smith Wellness Center will be housed in a 10,000 square-foot addition located in front of the gymnasium of the A.K. Christie Complex.
The Akeley Student Center will be built in a renovated area of the same complex, near the gymnasium and book store.
“This is really going to be a transformative project for this campus,” Tim Crowley, president of NMCC, said Wednesday. “Not only are we going to have a very nice building on campus, it is going to be more efficient and add additional square footage for students, faculty and the community to enjoy.”
Mary Barton Akeley Smith, the California resident who donated $5 million for the project, could not attend Tuesday’s ceremony but sent a letter that was read during the event.
“I knew that President Crowley and his staff were concerned about the health and fitness of the students,” she wrote. “I am so thrilled about what is happening at NMCC. There is such a great work ethic and energy level here. I consider myself very fortunate to be involved in helping the school to grow.”
The wellness center, which is named after Smith’s late husband, will feature an area for weightlifting and cardio equipment, a room for group exercises, a classroom to teach wellness and ergonomics, locker rooms and office space. The construction will result in the relocation of the main driveway entrance, and the entrance of the center will become the new main entryway to the Christie Complex.
Smith’s husband, Rodney Smith, was a self-made man and pioneer in the semiconductor industry who achieved great success in California’s Silicon Valley.
The Akeley Student Center was named after the Akeley family, which includes Smith’s parents, Robert V. Akeley and Hope Greenlaw Akeley, both of whom were born and raised in central Aroostook County. It will include the health center, the college store and an office for student organizations. Casual seating areas will be located throughout the facility. A walking path, marked by health and wellness information points, a light well and artifacts from the Presque Isle Air Base also will be highlights throughout the center.
Construction began a month ago.
The additional $1 million needed for the construction project is being raised through area businesses and organizations..
Crowley said that NMCC has had a student center and a fitness room on campus for some time, and has long had programs that have hammered home to students the benefits of being physically fit.
“There are numerous workplaces now that let employees know the benefits of leading a healthy lifestyle,” he said. “So what we are doing is nothing new. But we are an aging state, so we must do more to keep those who are entering the workforce now healthy.”
The Northern Maine Community College Foundation committed $300,000 to the project, according to Vicki Smith, chair of the foundation.
“The future of our students will depend on the breadth and precision of their training as well as their physical ability to provide service in the workforce for years to come,” she said.
The new wellness center is scheduled to be operational during the spring 2014 semester.
In 2011, Smith also bestowed a $1.2 million gift on NMCC that greatly advanced its alternative energy program offerings. She also contributed $1 million to help expand the Mark and Emily Turner Memorial Library in Presque Isle.