Maine Maritime Academy is proceeding with plans to create an annex at the former Verso Paper mill site in Bucksport that could eventually train 2,400 seafarers annually.
Academy President William J. Brennan announced late Tuesday afternoon that the college had signed a purchase-and-sale agreement with site owner American Iron and Metal. The agreement is expected to be finalized following a 60-day due-diligence period, he said in a statement.
Financial details were not disclosed.
If all goes as planned, the 2,400 MMA students and professional mariners the educational center is expected to serve would add a new customer base to the Hancock County town of 4,900. Bucksport has sought ways to reinvent itself following the 2014 closure of the paper mill, which employed more than 500 people.
The center “will be an auxiliary enterprise, the revenue from which will support the college’s mission and programs,” Brennan said Tuesday. “A phased approach will ensure that we can steward the finite resources MMA has to devote to the enterprise while simultaneously cultivating private funding.”
The academy has agreed to purchase six acres of the site.
Based in Castine, Maine Maritime enrolls 970 undergraduate and graduate students in career-oriented degree programs that include engineering, management, science and transportation.
AIM Development, a subsidiary of Montreal-based scrap metal dealer American Iron, acquired Verso’s 250-acre waterfront property in 2015 for $58 million.
The annex will be near a $250 million salmon farm due to break ground at the mill site in spring 2019. The center will train academy students; help mariners maintain required certifications; and train visiting firefighters, offshore wind and oil-rig workers in fire safety and water rescue.
Phase one of Maine Maritime’s plan would include the purchase of the Verso training building and construction of fire training facilities built to resemble cargo vessels.
In its first year, about 400 of Maine Maritime’s approximately 970 students would use the new center for off-campus training, plus some classroom work, including about 250 freshmen doing firefighter training, officials have said.
Another 500 maritime professionals could also come to the center for the short recertification classes and training, for a total of 900 students in the first year.
If all goes well, the number of professional sailors taking training at the center is expected to rise to about 2,000 in five years or so. The center could be useful to more than 20,000 mariners from all of New England and as far away as Ohio, officials have said.
The annex deal was years in the making. The school first announced its interest in establishing a safety and offshore survival institute at the site in April 2016, but the deal foundered.
MMA examined a site in Penobscot before resuming talks with AIM.