Harpswell charter school proposes ‘center for thinkers, doers’ at Mitchell Field

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HARPSWELL — The former U.S. Navy fuel depot could become an auxiliary campus for Harpswell Coastal Academy under a plan proposed by the charter school.

The Mitchell Field property has been largely unused since the Navy left in 1992. Since then, the town has converted much of the space for public recreational use, and created two commercial zones on the shoreline to attract marine-related businesses.

HCA Head of School John D’Anieri presented a plan for the property to selectmen on Jan. 28. “The Propeller Project,” as it’s now called, would be “a coastal center for thinkers and doers,” D’Anieri said.

According to D’Anieri, HCA would serve in a facilitating role to develop Mitchell Field and its vacant structures into a center for economic development, education, and community gathering.

D’Anieri said he has secured letters of support from outside organizations, including the Knickerbocker Group design company of Boothbay, the University of New England, and Portland-based ReVision Energy.

“The plan,” he said, “is to preserve existing civic uses … but also add very low-impact incubator and/or academic collaborations.”

UNE is interested in establishing a food and aquaculture science center on the property, he said, and the Landing School in Arundel would be interested in becoming part of a “Harpswell boatworks.”

The centerpiece of the development would be a Coastal Commons for Arts and Media, in the former Navy administrative building. That building, if renovated, could include performance space, a cafe, and a new home for the Harpswell Neck Library, which has been without a location since last summer, he said.

D’Anieri said he imagines that the site, which now looks like “an abandoned amusement park,” could eventually become a birthplace for innovation. With boat building and solar resources, “(we could build) the first solar-powered lobster boat,” he said.

D’Anieri acknowledged there is a lot of work left to do that would require the town’s cooperation. Harpswell, for instance, is looking at constructing a $330,000 boat launch at the site, which is not part of HCA’s current plan.

“Our ask,” D’Anieri said, “is active partnership,” with the town. He suggested a written “memorandum of understanding” between the two bodies.

Selectmen were interested in HCA’s pitch, but not fully ready to commit at the meeting.

“What we need,” Selectman Elinor Multer said, “is something on paper that has a time table.

“The whole question of how much do we not move ahead with any other kind of plan for the use of Mitchell Field to me is an important part of what we’re considering here,” she added.

“(I’m) interested, without a doubt,” Chairman Rick Daniel said. But Daniel said he want at least a rough outline of the project schedule and costs, and to have it submitted for a future workshop.

D’Anieri agreed, telling selectmen he’d come back with a written document.

Walter Wuthmann can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or wwuthmann@theforecaster.net. Follow Walter on Twitter: @wwuthmann.

Harpswell Coastal Academy is proposing to turn Mitchell Field into a campus for economic development, educational facilities, and public space.

Brunswick/Harpswell reporter for The Forecaster. Bowdoin College grad, San Francisco Bay Area native. Follow for municipal, school, community, and environmental news from the Midcoast.