BUCKSPORT, Maine — Maine Maritime Academy could be training mariners in Bucksport as early as this spring.
That’s what academy President William Brennan told Bucksport Town Council members during an update Thursday night on the academy’s plans for its annex at the former home of Verso Paper. The annex will serve primarily as an expansion of Maine Maritime’s continuing education program.
Maine Maritime intends to purchase about six acres on the 250-acre site that include the mill’s two-story former employee development center.
“What we envision is that by the early part of the summer, perhaps by the end of the spring, we will be able to bring that continuing education program up here and begin offering classes in the building,” Brennan said.
The school announced a tentative purchase-and-sale agreement with mill site owner American Iron and Metal on Nov. 13. Brennan said Maine Maritime hopes to close on the deal “by the early part of the new year.”
Brennan told Bucksport councilors that the academy is interested in partnering with the town to develop new waterfront facilities, provide or lease space to the town for “business incubator startups,” and pursue grants.
“We are a maritime training institution. Ports and harbors are extremely important to us,” Brennan told the council. “We would really be thrilled to be involved in port development here. I know that there has been conversation along that line. We certainly would look to bring a lot of expertise to the table in that regard. We certainly would look to anything that happens on the waterfront.”
Brennan said the academy expects to train about 800 mariners — a combination of current Maine Maritime students and professional mariners taking recertification courses — in its first year running the Bucksport annex.
The number of students training in Bucksport would eventually grow to 2,500.
Many of the adult students attending classes would stay in Bucksport for about a week at a time, Brennan said, which could provide an opportunity for new housing, restaurants and other amenities in town to serve them during their stays.
Brennan said he did not expect “a significant shift” of academy functions from Castine, where Maine Maritime enrolls 970 undergraduate and graduate students in career-oriented degree programs that include maritime engineering, management, science and transportation.
The annex will primarily serve commercial sailors and other professionals in need of recertification training, plus maritime and municipal firefighters in need of specialized training, Brennan said.
The goal of the annex, he said, is to broaden the academy’s offerings to serve those professionals. The income derived from the expansion will help the academy continue to affordably serve Maine undergrads of any income level, he said.
The school has already taught 300-plus recertification students this year, he said.