Bowdoin College has received final approval from the U.S. Department of Education for its request to acquire, by public benefit conveyance, three parcels of land totaling approximately 146 developable acres on the west side of the Brunswick Naval Air Station when the base closes in 2011. The additional land, which totals 259 acres in all, will be used for educational purposes.
The Dept. of Education’s final approval of the public benefit conveyances is a major milestone in a process begun in September 2006 when Bowdoin President Barry Mills announced Bowdoin’s intent to pursue the acquisition of Navy land that he described as “critical to the College’s ability to meet the growing needs of the College community.”
“With the land necessary for future expansion, Bowdoin can continue to meet the educational needs of our students while also enhancing our role as an economic mainstay in Brunswick and mid-coast Maine,” said Mills. “We are grateful to the Department of Education and to the members of our community who have supported and assisted us in this critical effort.”
The three parcels requested by the College and approved by the Dept. of Education include:
- 12 acres (Parcel 1) for construction of a storage facility and warehouse space that might, in part, accommodate the display of contemporary art; and parking.
- 104 acres (Parcel 2) for construction of athletic fields with parking and a service building; an interpretive nature trail that will accommodate student and faculty research and field studies in environmental studies and other academic disciplines.
- 143 acres (Parcel 3) for environmental studies, including a classroom/lab building and parking; to support sustainable food production, horticulture, and agriculture, including the construction of three greenhouses; a service building for equipment storage; and the extension of the interpretive nature trail.
Some natural areas unsuitable for development, such as significant vernal pools, were included in the College’s conveyances because of the opportunity these areas provide for academic field study and research.
“The proposed uses are those we expect to commence within three years of acquisition of the property,” said S. Catherine Longley, Bowdoin’s senior vice president for finance and administration & treasurer. “As part of the development, we will work with regulatory agencies including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, the Federal Aviation Administration, and the U.S. Coast Guard. The College will review the feasibility of this development based on economic conditions over the next three years.”
The approval of Bowdoin’s application by the Dept. of Education comes more than three years after the College began working with local officials to determine the appropriate location and boundaries for the land. In August 2007, the Brunswick Local Redevelopment Authority (BLRA) approved transfer of approximately 175 developable acres within a large area on the west side of the base to the College. At the same time, the town of Brunswick received approval from the BLRA to acquire by public benefit conveyance, property on the west side of the base “not developable or not required by Bowdoin College.” Bowdoin pursued a public benefit conveyance with the Dept. of Education, which gave its preliminary approval in March 2008 to the College’s request for three parcels of land. The boundaries and size of the Bowdoin parcels were not determined at that time, but were estimated to include 175 acres of developable land. With the exception of approximately 20 acres transferred to the Federal Aviation Administration and the United States Coast Guard, the remaining designated property on the west side would be conveyed to the Town for conservation purposes.
During the past thirty months, the College, the Town of Brunswick, and the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority (MRRA) have worked collaboratively to gain an understanding of the land’s characteristics; to determine areas of the property most suitable for the College’s future development and proposed educational program of use; to minimize fragmented ownership of the land; and to zone the property to allow for the College’s future development of the site and to conserve natural resources where appropriate. As a result of this work, the boundaries of the three parcels were established and the College recertified its applications to the Dept. of Education for the public benefit conveyances in November 2010.
The Dept. of Education’s approval for a public benefit conveyance of the land to the College is contingent on satisfactory remediation by the U.S. Navy of any environmental contamination discovered on the property. It is anticipated that the Department of the Navy will assign the property to the Dept. of Education for conveyance to the College by fall of 2011. The College’s plans for development of the property are subject to final approval by the Bowdoin Board of Trustees.
The approved conveyance of BNAS land to Bowdoin College is the latest in a series of land transfers involving the base, the town, and the College dating back nearly two centuries. The Town of Brunswick conveyed a portion of the Brunswick Town Commons to Bowdoin College in 1813. This land was leased back to the town by the College in the early 1940s and was acquired in 1944 by the U.S. government through eminent domain. This particular parcel, approximately 200 acres in size, today constitutes a portion of the runway at BNAS.
Bowdoin College, which is a tax-exempt, non-profit institution, is currently the 8th largest taxpayer in Brunswick. The College pays taxes on some real estate and several taxable operations, such as its stores and restaurant operations. In addition, in the fiscal year ending June 30, 2010, Bowdoin made voluntary contributions to the Town of Brunswick in excess of $500,000. The College employs 873 people, most of whom reside in the greater Brunswick area.