Although the initiative has yet to receive official town backing, the Marine & Environmental Education Alliance received a $100,000 grant from the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative on Thursday to build an Ocean Maritime Center along the Driftway in Scituate.
The grant will allow the alliance to conduct a feasibility study for the school to determine the need for these jobs and the demand within this industry, as well as help support outreach and permitting for the center.
A state-funded entity, the money will come from the John Adams Innovation Institute, the economic development arm of MTC focusing on innovation and industry growth.
Under this purview, Lieutenant Governor Tim Murray said Thursday he was proud to invest in this venture.
“Our administration is committed to making investments in education, innovation, and infrastructure that enhance our ability to compete in the global economy,” Murray said.
As chair of both the STEM [science, technology, engineering, and math] Advisory Council and the Seaport Advisory Council, Murray said he understood the need for these kinds of programs, for commercial, transportation, and recreational purposes.
“We have 78 coastal communities in Massachusetts, nearly 280 miles of coastline…the ocean is a part of Massachusetts’s history, and it’s a huge part of our future,” he said.
Pamela Goldberg, CEO of the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative, said programs like these were a part of the state’s strategy to attract innovation and jobs.
“The MTC brings together sources of industry, academia, and the government to serve the broader community, and employment is a critical component of that,'' she said.
Massasoit Community College will eventually partner with the Marine & Environmental Education Alliance (MEEA) to provide the credentials, certificate programs, and training to fill the school.
According to Massasoit President Dr. Charles Wall, “We have been offering programs in marine technology for six to seven years now… we have a track record we can build on, but through the grant we can broaden and deepen this work.”
Wall said he expects the feasibility study to tell him what they already suspect – that the need for these types of jobs is prevalent.
Ed Logren, a member of MEEA’s Board of Directors and owner of 3A Marine Service Inc. in Hingham, has similar statistics.
"The shortage of skilled labor has long been an impediment to growth in the marine trades. Our biggest problem for years has been finding enough technicians to maintain and repair our boats and marine engines,” he said. “It remains an acute problem during recessional times when the public is not buying new product and must maintain and repair what they have.”
Yet not everyone is so certain.
According to Dave Berkowitz, a Scituate resident and member of the Friends of the Driftway group, many in the community are wary of the idea of a giant school so close to Scituate’s harbor.
Berkowitz says it is unwise for the town to consider leasing the land to the non-profit for a nominal fee without first receiving the results of the feasibility study.
“We do not object to development of that parcel. That is not our objection. Our objections are that the town, if that parcel is developed, the town should receive money for it, and over time, the town should receive income in the form of taxes,” Berkowitz said.
Furthermore, the environmental sensitivity of the area, being located next to an unlined landfill, could be problematic. Parking concerns, increased traffic, and use of the town’s resources are other issues.
Berkowitz and other members of the Friends also do not believe that the deal is set enough in stone to protect the town, despite the measures and restrictions within the request for proposals.
Since Massasoit can only commit to a lease period for a certain amount of time, what may happen if the demand for the program drops and there is no other entity to take Massasoit’s place?
“The town could be burdened by this facility,” Berkowitz said. “What if the program was no longer being offered by Massasoit, so they no longer had a desire to lease the facility in Scituate? What would happen to the facility?”
Yet there is still a long road ahead to discuss the issues, as the town first needs to accept MEEA’s proposal for the site before negotiating with the group the aspects of the lease.
The groups would then have to go through the environmental and building permit process. Meanwhile, fundraising efforts will continue for the $18 million facility.