News Feature

Originally published in Castine Patriot, August 16, 2012
MMA trustees focus on funding ABS building

Board of Trustees Chairman Robert J. Peacock

Board of Trustees Chairman Robert J. Peacock addresses Maine Maritime Academy trustees and staff at the board’s August 10 meeting, where trustees voted to revise its investment policy as a possible way to help fund its proposed engineering building. Seated, from left, trustee Anne Marie Samway, board treasurer John “Dugan” Shipway and MMA president William Brennan.

Photo by Anne Berleant Order prints of selected PBP photos.

by Anne Berleant

Maine Maritime Academy trustees passed three resolutions at their August 10 quarterly meeting that were designed to help raise funds for a proposed ABS Center for Engineering and Applied Research. Based on construction designs completed by Harriman Associates of Portland, the three-story building will cost $11,862,000 to build and equip for use. Local and state permits for the project were issued earlier this year.

The new building will be located across the street and on the northwest side of the Bath Iron Works Center for Advanced Technology on the site of a 30-vehicle parking lot accessible from Pleasant Street. A replacement parking lot with 40 spaces is planned for the northwest side of Curtis Hall.

Two of the resolutions, put forth by the Finance Committee, allow the academy ready access to the $6 million of “stranded” funds in the Maine Public Employees Retirement System (MPERS). At its May meeting, the board voted to withdraw the funds, which was made possible by changes in IRS regulations. The funds comprise matching retirement benefits paid into the account for former employees who never became vested for retirement.

The first resolution changes MMA’s investment policy. It creates a new quasi-endowment asset category, which may be utilized at the discretion of the Academy. The quasi-endowment fund may also be invested in the pooled investment fund managed by the University of Maine instead of in short-term government securities, as are academy unrestricted funds. The pooled investment fund is a long-term fund with higher risks and possible higher returns than government securities.

The second resolution permits the academy to withdraw the surplus funds still invested by MPERS and place it in the new quasi-endowment fund.

“No way I would vote for that,” said trustee Rodney Rodrigue at the Finance Committee meeting held a day earlier. “I would not take that risk.”

MMA President Bill Brennan pointed out that the resolution gives MMA the ability to use current unrestricted fund money invested in low-risk funds, but doesn’t make that decision.

“[The policy change] doesn’t say we have to do something; it gives us the opportunity,” Chairman Robert Peacock said, adding “I agree with Rod; it’s time to be really careful.”

The board of trustees passed both Finance Committee resolutions, with Rodrigue and William Walsh voting against them.

The third resolution, put forth by the Advancement Committee, creates a capital campaign to raise funds for the ABS building, with former board chairman William Haggett at its helm.

At its committee meeting—held before the Finance Committee voted to bring its resolutions to the board table—Haggett stated a fundraising goal of $10.2 million by July 2013, with construction of the ABS building to be completed by September 2015. The campaign will seek million-dollar commitments payable over a five-year period.

Brennan recommended green-lighting the ABS project as soon as possible, with a decision made “by the first of the year,” after seeing how much money has been raised. “Let’s light a fire and get this thing moving,” he said.

The resolution to form the capital campaign headed by Haggett passed unanimously.

In other business, at the Facilities and Property Committee Harriman Associates presented its master plan findings on the academy’s potential for growth, based on property owned and the current campus.

“This is an important juncture for the academy,” Brennan said, citing the need for increasing revenue through higher enrollment. He asked for a Stretgic Planning ad hoc committee “to guide and provide oversight.”

“As you contemplate change, your relationship with neighbors should maintain a high quality,” said engineer John Kuchiniski, of Harriman Associates.

The board unanimously passed the resolution to form the ad hoc committee the next day.

Also, Robert Peacock was re-elected as board chairman, Robert Somerville re-elected as vice-president and John “Dugan” Shipway re-elected as treasurer. Kathleen Grimes, executive assistant to the president, was elected board secretary.

Peacock announced Richard Grosh’s retirement from the board.

The chairman also expressed his regret over the recent death of Dick Ericson, Vice President for Finance and Administration. “We can replace his financial ability … but we can’t replace his institutional knowledge and friendship.” An MMA scholarship fund in his name has been established.

Finally, 313 freshmen will enter the academy this fall, with a total enrollment of around 960 students. Convocation will be held on September 5.