MACHIAS — Acting on a proposal by North Coast Internet Inc., selectmen have scheduled a Feb. 9 special town meeting to ask voters if the town should apply for a $400,000 grant to build a business telecommunications center at the Machias Industrial Park.
The proposed 7,200-square-foot center would be the first of its kind in the state, according to Chet Childs, North Coast president. In addition to being the new headquarters for North Coast Internet, the center would provide assistance and business planning advice to local entrepreneurs who want to market their product on the Internet.
Childs said plans include renting space to individuals or businesses that need an office with computers. The facility would include a multimedia, high-tech classroom where local people can take basic computer and Internet-related courses, he said.
Childs outlined the proposed Machias Tele-Business Center during a Jan. 22 selectmen’s meeting. He said North Coast would contribute $200,000 of the $600,000 that is needed to construct the facility.
If approved by voters, the town will apply for an economic development infrastructure grant under the Maine Community Development Block Grant Program. The town would administer the $400,000 grant and contribute the required local match of $80,000 by providing a 2-acre site for the center, Childs said.
Childs said the $400,000 block grant would include $6,800 to pay someone from the town to administer the funds.
According to Childs’ estimates, engineering and design of the two-story building would cost $40,000. Construction should run $360,000. North Coast Internet’s $200,000 will pay for interior furnishings, operating capital, electronic equipment and the telephone system, he said.
If all goes as planned, Childs said he expected the facility will be ready for occupancy by January 1999.
In response to a question from First Selectman Sandra Altsmannsberger, Childs said the area needs a multimedia high-tech classroom because neither the University of Maine at Machias nor local high schools have the wherewithal to offer all the classes that people need. Childs said yesterday that he is talking with the university about the classroom project.
If constructed, the center could provide 40 jobs, he said. North Coast currently employs six people, but the business is expanding and Childs said he needs approximately 20 people to provide 24-hour technical support for North Coast customers. North Coast will use 2,400 square feet of the 7,200-square-foot building and rent space to other businesses, he said.
North Coast Internet is the only Internet service provider that operates from Washington County. The company was formed in January 1996 and went online in March of that year with 150 customers when North Coast merged with Downeast Micronet. Corporate headquarters for North Coast is in Lubec with a technical center in Machias and satellite offices in Columbia Falls, Calais, Woodland and Eastport, Childs said.
North Coast currently serves 1,379 customers and Childs said he must expand because he is moving from an analog system to a digital system.
While looking for financial support for the expansion project, Childs said he contacted the state. The Maine Department of Economic and Community Development suggested that he approach Machias about applying for a community development block grant.
Childs said Machias will own the building and, in the unlikely event that his business is not successful, the town should have no problem in finding other businesses that would be interested in the facility. Childs said he’s heard that several companies are considering Maine as a site for telephone answering centers, similar to MBNA in Belfast.
Machias selectmen gave concept approval to the proposal in a unanimous vote. The deadline to apply for the $400,000 community development block grant is Feb. 20.
Selectmen have scheduled a public hearing at 7 p.m. Feb. 9 at the Machias Memorial High School Gymnasium. The hearing will be followed by a special town meeting at 8 p.m. where voters will be asked to approve the town’s application for a grant.
The proposal can be viewed at the Machias town office.