Question 4: Do you favor a $4,500,000 bond issue to provide funds for a public-private partnership for a building project for a new science facility at the Maine Maritime Academy to be matched by other funds?
Maine Maritime Academy is embarking on an exciting project on its Castine campus: the construction of a $14 million science and engineering building. The ABS Center for Engineering, Science and Research will be Maine Maritime’s first new classroom and lab facility in 30 years.
On Nov. 5, voters will decide on a $4.5 million bond issue to cover a portion of the building’s construction costs. Unfortunately, we’re not convinced the state should go into debt to finance the ABS Center’s construction. We suggest a “no” vote on Question 4.
We don’t oppose Maine Maritime Academy’s plans to build the new facility. We don’t doubt a need for updated, upgraded lab space and modern classrooms. And we’re confident a world-class lab and classroom facility will allow the school’s valuable traditions of hands-on learning, preparation for well-paying careers and professor-student collaboration on research to continue.
But we’re not sold on the need for a bond.
First, Maine Maritime Academy’s leaders have committed to building the ABS Center and to seeing its construction through to completion, regardless of the outcome of the vote on Question 4. It’s the top priority for the school’s board of trustees, a ceremonial groundbreaking has already taken place, construction is expected to be underway by spring and the building should be ready for use in less than two years.
Fundraising for the project began more than six years ago with no plans to rely on a public bond issue. As proposed, the bond issue would provide $4.5 million in state funds, and the rest would be raised from private sources. In fact, the school has already raised $9 million in cash and pledges, none of it contingent on the bond question’s passage. The idea of a bond issue didn’t come up until the start of this year’s legislative session at the well-intentioned suggestion of House Republican Leader Ken Fredette of Newport.
The ABS Center is named for the lead donor, the American Bureau of Shipping, which contributed $2.5 million. And the school just weeks ago announced it has won a $1.4 million federal grant to build a Marine Engine Testing and Emissions Laboratory in the new building.
We’re confident in Maine Maritime Academy’s ability to raise the funds it needs for the building’s construction. If public money were critical, however, we would want to see the building project tied to a specific outcome to help Maine grow.
Specifically, we would need to be convinced of a return on taxpayers’ money. President William Brennan said the building won’t increase the school’s capacity to grow beyond its current 950-student enrollment. Increased capacity for Maine students would be a return on investment. In addition, the building isn’t likely to drastically enhance Maine Maritime’s competitiveness with the six other maritime training schools in the U.S. — because they don’t intensely compete for the same students. Enhanced competitiveness would be a return on investment.
While the ABS Center would offer Maine Maritime Academy professors and students first-rate facilities, we’re not convinced there’s a need to bond for that benefit.