Southern Maine Community College formally opens Brunswick Landing campus

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BRUNSWICK — The new midcoast campus of Southern Maine Community College officially opened Nov. 19 with a formal ceremony and commemoration.

Students had been attending classes and living in a new residence hall since the start of the fall semester in August. But college leaders, as well as state and town officials, gathered in the school’s newly renovated L.L. Bean Learning Commons to mark how far the fledgling campus has come since it was launched in 2011.

“The beginnings of this campus,” SMCC President Ron Cantor said, “were in a small portion of one, unrenovated building.”

SMCC, the largest and oldest community college in Maine, with a main campus in South Portland, began efforts to build a second campus after receiving two land transfers from the Navy after the air base closed in 2011.

During the first year it was open, SMCC had 79 students, with five buildings on 22 acres. Funding from a $4.75 million general obligation bond approved in June 2010 was allocated for improvements to the buildings.

One former student, Katie Wing, recalled how in those first years, Campus Dean Jim Whitten would sweep the floor after events.

But now, SMCC Midcoast is a “full-fledged, comprehensive college,” Cantor said. “(We are) expanding economic opportunity to more Mainers.”

The new “heart and hub” of the campus, according to SMCC spokesman Clarke Canfield, is the new L.L. Bean Learning Commons. The $4.5 million renovation was supported by a $500,000 earmark from L.L Bean through the Foundation for Maine’s Community Colleges, as well as a $200,000 contribution towards landscaping.

Inside is a cafe, adviser offices, and lab and classroom space for the nursing and health sciences programs.

SMCC now has 600 students at the midcoast campus, and offers degrees in composite science and manufacturing, pre-engineering, business administration, nursing and a number of liberal arts studies. Thirty-eight students live in a renovated residence hall, formerly the Navy’s bachelor officers’ quarters.

Tuition and fees are just under $3,700 a year, according to the college’s website. Residence fees are $2,600 a semester for a room.

Wing, a former SMCC student who now attends Smith College in Massachusetts, spoke of her experience on the campus at Thursday’s event.

“I (came to SMCC) only knowing I wanted something better for my daughter and me,” she said to the crowd of about 100.

She said the small campus allowed her to sharpen her leadership abilities and form meaningful connections with her teachers.

“The challenge … was not making the decision to apply (to a four-year college),” she said. “But believing I was capable.”

“It was the support I found here that made me believe I could do it,” she added.

Smith College lists its acceptance rate at 42 percent, and is ranked the 14th best liberal arts college in the nation by U.S. News and World Report. Wing earned an Ada Comstock scholarship to attend, and now lives there with her daughter.

“That’s the gem that I found here,” she concluded. “Opportunity.”

After Wing’s remarks, Cantor presented awards to representatives from the Maine Department of Economic & Community Development, the state Legislature, and the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority for their efforts in supporting the development of the midcoast campus.

He also presented a custom made wooden chair to state Sen. Stan Gerzofsky, D-Brunswick, for his “vision, persistence, and continued support of the (campus).”

The presentation was held on a stage in the center of the new commons. In another part of the building, after the ceremony, Nursing Department Chair Michael Nozdrovicky led a tour through the new Health Science Center.

He stopped in a staged operating room, where a pregnant-looking mannequin lay in a hospital bed.

According to Nozdrovicky, the mannequin, which costs $135,000, can simulate an actual human birth, displaying symptoms from increased heart rate, to varied breathing, to sweat. If nursing students operate successfully, they deliver a healthy little mannequin baby.

“Remember the Wizard of Oz,” he asked the group, pointing to a mirror on one end of the room. He said during the simulated procedure, an instructor sits behind the one-way mirror and manipulates the mannequin’s responses through a computer.

“This gives students the opportunity to critically think from what’s actually happening,” he said. “For many, it may be the first time they lay hands on another ‘person’ in a clinical setting.”

On cue, the mannequin piped up: “This is the worst pain ever,” she said.

Nozdrovicky said the equipment makes SMCC’s midcoast campus unique; he said only one other community college and the Maine Medical Center have similar technology onsite.

With 140 students in the nursing program and 450 in pre-nursing, “this is an opportunity for so many people who can just start,” he said. “This is the entry into practice.”

“And then, you can go anywhere from there,” he added.

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

Southern Maine Community College Nursing Department Chairman Michael Nozdrovicky leads a demonstration in Brunswick last week of a Health Science Center mannequin that helps train students by accurately simulating childbirth.

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.