PORTLAND — The celebration comes Thursday at the expanded Casco Bay Lines terminal off Commercial Street, but General Manager Hank Berg said the difference is already clear to see.
“I characterize this year as transformational,” Berg said Aug. 1 as a sea breeze swept past opened doors into the glassy, 4,500-square-foot addition opened the weekend of July 4.
Just beyond the new waiting area, the Wabanaki was docked. The new ferry was put into service this winter, now it was clearly visible to passengers waiting for trips to the Casco Bay Islands.
The formal grand opening starts at 10:30 a.m. Thursday. The holiday opening was unheralded but successful, Berg said, allowing the quasi-governmental company to work out some bugs, including the need for more sound suppression that will be decorated with a mural celebrating Casco Bay Lines history.
“The concept was to blend the inside and outside areas where most activity takes place,” Berg said.
Three years in the planning and construction, the first phase of expansion entailed $2.8 million work, with an additional $800,000 spent on marine structure work outside the terminal.
By more than doubling the space of the terminal built in 1988, Berg said Casco Bay Lines can better accommodate a doubling in the number of passengers served annually from 500,000.
What was once the ticketing area and waiting room will become areas for maintenance, storage, a conference room and employee area. The expansion also fits the shift in gates most frequently used for departures and arrivals.
In 1988, passengers mostly used gates 1 through 3, Berg noted. Larger ferries in service led to a shift to use gates 4 through 6 more frequently.
“People could not see their boats coming in,” Berg said.
Ticket agents also get a better view in their new office, including seeing more of the freight loading area, Berg said. Improved restrooms were also added.
Designed by city-based Scott Simons Architects and constructed with Scarborough-based Landry French Construction Company as the general contractor, Berg said a big challenge in terminal expansion was ensuring plenty of public involvement in the planning stages.
A $2.56 million federal Transit Administration grant for phase two work was received in June, a job that will carry its own challenges because of the narrow footprint and shared space beyond the terminal walls.
Work in the second phase will include finalizing the conversion of the older terminal area, and then the focus will shift to improving the passenger pickup and drop-off zones, Berg said.
He estimated 27,000 vehicles use the car ferry each year, but as large a concern are the ones pulling in for quick stops. There may also be an opportunity to improve the logistics for freight loading in the second phase.
While praising the patience of customers and staff during work that began in February, Berg said his reward is easily seen.
“I like seeing the reaction of our customers to wide open space and visibility,” Berg said.
The Wabanaki ferry docks outside the expanded Casco Bay Lines Ferry terminal in Portland. A ceremony to officially open the new space will be held Thursday, Aug. 7.