SMCC pushes ahead with Brunswick campus expansion
BRUNSWICK — As the largest school in Maine's community college system, Southern Maine Community College has long struggled with space.
But despite an obstacle from the LePage administration, an expansion of courses and classrooms at Brunswick Landing could change all that.
The campus in Brunswick is not another one of SMCC's satellite programs, SMCC President Ronald Cantor said.
“My philosophy of college education, especially community college education is to place the college at the heart of the community and the community at the heart of the college,” he told the Town Council on July 23. “Now SMCC is going to have two full-service, comprehensive campuses: South Portland and the new full-service campus in Brunswick at Brunswick Landing.”
Enrollment has rapidly grown since the Brunswick campus opened last fall. When doors opened last September only 79 students were enrolled. As of this week, there were 255 students already enrolled for the fall semester. Enrollment continues through the start of the school year on Aug. 27.
Most of the programming at the Brunswick campus is focused on regional industries, such as pre-engineering, composites technology and nursing, and is slightly different, other than core liberal studies classes, than what is offered at the South Portland campus.
“We're really focusing on programming that will help Brunswick Landing and all of Mid-Coast, which has been underserved by education, particularly higher education,” James Whitten, dean of the Mid-Coast campus, said.
He said that, like the South Portland campus, Brunswick will offer the nursing program. The Maine Fire Service Institute will move from South Portland to Brunswick, too, but the majority of the classes are aimed at giving area residents the tools to succeed in the local workforce.
“We are doing everything we can to give people the tools they need to have success in this economy,” Whitten said. “I think that's one of the hooks that the college provides is not only access, but the skills that the workforce is asking for.”
The campus has five buildings, but due to budget constraints only three of the five buildings can be used.
“We actually have no operating budget,” Cantor said. “But we're not waiting, we're going to continue to make our own investment.”
The major funding obstacle is that Gov. Paul LePage has frozen education bond money across the state. Without that money, renovations on SMCC's remaining two buildings cannot be completed.
“The continuation of the bond funding would allow us to continue the renovation of one major building that would be the learning commons and health science center, a library and book store,” Whitten said. “That building right now is on hold because of the funding with the bond.”
In the meantime, the college has been completed a new building to house its labs for the physics and chemistry departments.
“We are just going to continue to do what we've been doing,” Whitten said. “Community colleges have always been very good at taking what we have and making it work and that's where we're at right now. We will make sure we will continue to offer what we can offer.”