ROCKLAND, Maine ― For 40 years, the Midcoast School of Technology was housed in a former boat building factory that was not designed for the multitude of trade skills being taught there.
But this year, students are back to school in a strikingly modern industrial space that was built entirely with their education in mind after the completion of a new $26 million building which offers nearly twice the space.
“There is more room. It’s not so small and not so noisy anymore. We don’t have to deal with sounds coming from the diesel tech or auto body shops,” Kaleb Booth, a student in the school’s certified nursing assistant program said.
The Midcoast School of Technology serves students from 21 towns in the region. They come from six high schools including Oceanside, Camden Hills Regional and Medomak Valley.
Enrollment this year is about 360 students, according to Midcoast School of Technology Director Beth Fisher. The school’s adult-education program additionally serves between 500 and 800 people.
Nearly 20 different trade programs are offered at the school, including welding, carpentry, small engine repair, auto collision and autobody repair, auto technology, machine tool, marine technology, culinary arts, design technology, outdoor leadership, as well as a certified nursing assistant program and a firefighting and EMT program.
In 2016, voters in the 21 towns the school serves approved a $25-million bond to fund the construction of a new school. Fisher, who became the school’s director in 2008, said a new facility had been a topic of conversation since she was hired.
Shortly after Fisher became director, a building study was done on the school and the findings were unsettling.
“The building was in worse shape than I thought it was, enough to keep you awake at night,” Fisher said.
The roof couldn’t handle more than 12 inches of snow, plumbing under the concrete slab floor was destroyed to the point where bathrooms had to be closed for repairs, and in 10 years, more than $100,000 was spent on electrical work.
“There were a lot of things that were marginal,” Fisher said. “It was never really designed for the kind of electrical loads we were putting on it.”
As the new school welcomed students and staff last week, the resounding take on the new building was how much more space the 90,000-square-foot facility offered.
“The old building was an open warehouse so there was no separation except for these half walls,” Fisher said. “We couldn’t figure out why the computers in machine tool kept having problems. Well, it was because all the saw dust from carpentry was getting sucked up into the computers.”
The former 57,000-square-foot building was torn down earlier this summer. The new school sits on the same property as the old school, just a bit closer to the picturesque backdrop of Rockland Harbor.
The new school features separated shops and classrooms for each of the school’s programs. With more space, the welding program was able to double the number of welding booths it had.
The design technology classroom has more than doubled in size and now features a film studio with a green screen.
Aside from the new facility, students and staff are also adjusting to a new schedule. Previously students spent half a day at their high school and half a day at the Midcoast School of Technology.
But that meant that much of the day was spent on buses and not in the classroom.
This year, students will spend full days at the technical school every other day. Design technology teacher Brandon Soards said the new schedule will allow for learning opportunities that wouldn’t fit into a half day schedule.
“Not only does this new space present the opportunity for them to film in the studio but also the amount of time really changes the ball game,” Soards said. “[With half days] we couldn’t really afford to go somewhere [off-campus] and do a promo video for a business, which is a great way for students to get practice.”
Students who complete the one or two year programs offered at the school often leave with some type of industry-recognized credential, allowing them to go directly from high school into the workforce.
For Fisher, having a new state-of-the-art facility for technical learning is an investment in the skilled workforce.
“We’ve had quite a misguided perception in this country that to be successful you need to be a professional with a four-year degree,” Fisher said. “We have undervalued people who work with their hands until we need them.”