The ones who stayed behind: A handful of Navy staffers remain at the former Brunswick Naval Air Station

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BRUNSWICK — Most U.S. Navy sailors and civilian employees will have departed the now-closed Brunswick Naval Air Station by the end of the week.

But a small group of Navy employees are staying behind to take care of the deserted base. Some will be there only through the summer, while others may stay for years.

“I don’t know how long this particular job is going to last,” said Robert Leclerc, who served as the deputy public works officer before the base closed. “For now I’m taking it one day at time.”

Many departing Navy and civilian staff have already moved to bases in places like Virginia and Florida, or taken other jobs in the area. Others, like Command Master Chief Dan Nicholson, are retiring. The former base commander, Capt. William Fitzgerald, is moving to Houston, Texas, where he will command the Reserve Officer Training Corps program at Rice University.

The majority of those who are staying on are civilians, including John Ripley, the public affairs director.

He said the pace of his work would likely slow considerably in the coming weeks.

“Hopefully I won’t have to work 10 hours a day,” Ripley said, laughing.

His contract ends in July, and he’s not sure what happens next.

“I’m sending out resumes like a lot of other people,” Ripley said.

Besides Ripley, the rest of the Navy staff that will remain are involved with maintaining the base’s land and buildings as part of a caretaker team.

Since the base was tapped for closure six years ago, the team of 80 facilities employees has dwindled to five. As the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority acquired properties from the Navy, there were fewer buildings and grounds to look after.

But the buildings that remain have different needs than before. Leclerc, the senior member of the caretaker team, frequently walks through each building, looking for leaks, animal infestations, or other maintenance issues. When the buildings were occupied, people would call to report problems. Now Leclerc and his staff have to discover them.

“It’s completely different than it used to be,” he said. “Now we need to go out there and walk around inside these buildings and make sure there’s no leaking roofs.”

When the base closure was announced, the Navy stopped doing major repairs to its facilities. Now, Leclerc just tries to ensure their value doesn’t depreciate.

“We’re not really authorized to do major repair work anymore, it just doesn’t make sense,” he said.

When he’s not rooting out mice infestations or looking for leaks, Leclerc is responsible for showing the buildings to tenants interested in putting their businesses at Brunswick Landing, and coordinating the continuing environmental cleanup.

But Leclerc and the other caretakers will eventually be let go when the Navy completes its property transfer to MRRA.

“The size of the office will be reflective of the amount of properties that remain in Navy hands,” said Steve Dakin, a Base Realignment and Closure specialist who is one of the base’s caretakers. Dakin said he’s not sure how long his position will last, but said the job insecurity is no different than working for a private company.

For many of the last remaining Navy staffers, the process has been bittersweet.

“It has been hectic at times, but I’m feeling kind of grateful that I’m going to be able to continue here even after the base closes,” Leclerc said.

Ripley, who started his position in the fall of 2009 as the last squadrons were just leaving, said the idea of working at a closing military base appealed to him because of its historical importance.

“It’s also been a chance to make more lifelong friends,” he said. “The camaraderie you find in a situation like this is not necessarily something you see when you’re working at a bank.”

Emily Guerin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or eguerin@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @guerinemily.

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