It came as a bit of a surprise to the many involved that the WCCC administration had decided to shrink the Eastport Boat School, pack it up and send it lock, stock and barrel to Calais with just one instructor to man the ship. Especially after the public had been assured that the Boat School “was coming back bigger and better” just a short time ago. No word at press time whether program will now be called the Boat Course of perhaps Boatbuilding 101. Granted, there has long been an uneasy relationship between Calais mothership and the Eastport campus.

In many ways, it has been a marriage of convenience. The Boat School’s curriculum never meshed well with standard college norms i.e. the 45-minute lecture, 90 minute labs that are easily billed as hours of credit. The school runs more like a… boatshop. The school year was timed to work with the needs of industry rather than mimicking the academic year.

Over the years, Calais cut popular programs such as marine mechanics and marine painting. They cut instructors, support staff and advertising, then claimed with astonishment that student applications were dropping. Indeed, it is somewhat surprising they had any students at all, as potential students had to actively seek out the school only to find there was no one there to answer their queries over the phone.

It is curious that Calais did not contact the Curriculum Advisory Committee about sending the school up the river. Nor, apparently, did they consult with industry or the City of Eastport for creative ways to fund the program, despite the long history of the school working partnerships with both. Says instructor Dean Pike, “Not once has (WCCC) President Cassidy ever said “we need to sit down and figure out how to save money so we can keep the program in Eastport”.

At a time when the boat building industry in Maine is expanding, when locally owned shops that are located in out-of-the way towns all over the state are selling value added product all over the world, closing the Marine Trade Center in Eastport seems a curious move indeed. These tax paying small businesses provide skilled jobs that are decently paid with benefits. Plus there are all the multiplier factors that all the economists always swoon over — as the shops buy locally, purchasing everything from custom cabinetry to pizzas.

Customers beat a path to the Pine Tree State because of their belief in the quality of Maine workmanship. Yet a recent survey indicated that 72 percent of marine-based businesses in the state have difficulty recruiting employees. These are businesses, by the way, that are unlikely to desert Bangor for Bangalore, will not disappear with military base closure and are not tied to the whims of the real estate market.

The WCCC administration apparently has lost the notion that they are chartered to provide affordable skills and education to Maine citizens that will enable them to get jobs and pay taxes (that pay for things like colleges, for example). Citing cuts in funds, and acting like a small mom & pop enterprise that is merely downsizing an unprofitable product line they have effectively given an excellent program the ax. Pity, with a bit of long-term vision and creativity at the helm, things might have been different.

Greg Rossel, a 1980 Boat School alumnus, operates a boat shop in Troy, is an instructor at the WoodenBoat School, a contributing editor to WoodenBoat Magazine and, until very recently, a member of the Marine Trade Center Curriculum Advisory Committee.