Attorney Michael Lane lays out zoning maps for the Bucksport Planning Board in this April 3, 2019, file photo.

Maine Maritime Academy plans to open its continuing education annex on the former Verso Paper mill site in Bucksport next month and has hired a director for the facility.

The Center for Professional Mariner Development will open in mid-January unless renovations of the mill’s former training center are finished before then, with Director Alan Chace beginning work in February, school spokeswoman Jennifer DeJoy said.

All of Maine Maritime’s recertification classes for professional mariners will eventually move from the academy’s Castine campus to Bucksport. About 900 people — 400 Maine Maritime students and 500 maritime professionals — are expected to take classes at the center next year, which could be a boost to the town with visitors patronizing restaurants, hotels and other businesses. The number of professional sailors seeking recertification is expected to climb to 2,000 or so in five years, or about 50 merchant mariners a week for 50 weeks a year.

Chace comes to the academy with 27 years of academic and naval experience, most recently as a project manager and coordinator of professional development at Cape Cod Community College. Efforts to contact him were not immediately successful Friday.

The center opening comes despite the lack of a firefighting training center. Construction of the simulator, which is modeled after the interior of a ship, will begin in spring 2020, DeJoy said. Until then, students will continue to use a fire training ground in Ellsworth.

Credit: Courtesy of Maine Maritime Academy

Renovations of the former Verso Paper building Maine Maritime plans to move into are almost complete. Crews are doing touch-ups on its main floor and upgrading the building’s wiring, audio-visual equipment, security and internet systems, DeJoy said.

The building sits on four acres overlooking the Penobscot River. The main floor includes seven staff offices, one conference room, two large classrooms, one visiting instructor’s office, two public lounges, a large multi-purpose space and a public break and snack room, DeJoy said.

The mill site deal took the academy years to develop. The school first expressed interest in the location in April 2016. But Maine Maritime then examined a site in Penobscot before the college signed a purchase-and-sale agreement with mill site owner American Iron and Metal in November 2018 and finalized the deal in June.

The center could appeal to 20,000 mariners from New England and from as far away as Ohio who require periodic training, academy leaders have said.