BRUNSWICK – Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University will maintain a permanent campus at Brunswick Naval Air Station after the base closes in 2011, providing a linchpin to redevelopment of the 3,200-acre base, officials announced Tuesday.
The university – the first tenant at the base – will work with aviation-related industries anchoring redevelopment of the base and create programs catering to their workers, said Charlie Whitten, Embry-Riddle’s director of academic support in Brunswick.
Under the arrangement, the university’s center serving military personnel will become a formal campus serving hundreds of civilian workers, Whitten said.
“This is another nail in the coffin of that rumor that the Navy base is going to become a ghost town,” state Rep. Stan Gerzofsky, D-Brunswick, said at a news conference in which Gov. John Baldacci made the formal announcement.
A road map guiding the reuse of the Brunswick Naval Air Station envisions a general aviation airport, aviation-related industries and a college campus, in addition to an office park, a resort hotel, golf course, and hundreds of acres of green space.
Embry-Riddle will be a key to attracting aviation-related industries because of its top-flight reputation and its willingness to tailor its programs to the needs of companies, said Steve Levesque, executive director of the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority.
Companies that are currently looking to relocate to Brunswick are favorably impressed when they learn of Embry-Riddle’s presence, Levesque said.
“The education piece is a critical element of any economic development initiative,” he said. Currently, there’s no civilian aviation education program in Maine, he added.
Embry-Riddle began offering courses in Maine in 1981 and moved to the Brunswick Naval Air Station in 1994. Currently, it offers both classroom and distance learning degrees in aircraft maintenance, aviation maintenance management and professional aeronautics.
It now serves about 100 military and base personnel each year, but Whitten envisions serving as many as 2,500 students or more after the base closes.
Embry-Riddle was created by barnstormer John Paul Riddle and entrepreneur T. Higbee Embry in December 1925 in Cincinnati. These days, it serves more than 34,000 students each year in undergraduate and graduate programs at residential campuses in Prescott, Ariz., and Daytona Beach, Fla.
Since 1970, it has been expanding with satellite operations and more than 130 campus centers in the U.S. and around the world.
Embry-Riddle becomes the third educational facility to commit to either relocating or expanding at Brunswick Naval Air Station. The others are Bowdoin College and Southern Maine Community College. Whitten envisions working with other institutions on joint degree programs.
The Base Realignment and Closure Commission voted in 2005 to shutter the Brunswick Naval Air Station. It is one of 22 major bases being closed and 33 others being scaled back as part of the military’s massive reorganization aimed at saving millions of dollars per year.
Later this year, after the final air show at the Brunswick base, the first military personnel will start receiving their permanent change of station orders to a Navy base in Jacksonville, Fla. Then there will be a gradual drawdown through September 2011, when the base is scheduled to close.