Massachusetts Maritime Academy has put on hold an initiative to obtain property in Buzzards Bay for the purpose of creating additional cadet housing.
Instead, the maritime college will move forward with plans to turn the former Beachmoor Inn into a new student dormitory, and continue housing some students in Wareham.
During a telephone interview, MMA president Rear Admiral Francis X. McDonald recalled that the pursuit of Buzzards Bay property two years ago was for the purpose of building a 180-bedroom dormitory. The admiral said there is no one reason that the initiative was suspended, but several. One of them, he said, was a mixed reaction from the community.
Another part of the reasoning had to do with the changing demographics in New England and an adjustment of the academy’s growth plan. Given a potential downturn in future student enrollment, he said, a 180-bedroom dormitory might not be needed.
The admiral spoke at length during the Bourne Board of Selectmen’s meeting Tuesday, December 3, about the academy’s plans for housing.
At that meeting, Adm. McDonald acknowledged that the academy had explored acquiring property in Buzzards Bay for the purpose of constructing more dormitory space. That option, he told the selectmen, is off the table now.
But the option had been on the table for at least two years. In late February 2017, the Massachusetts State College Building Authority issued a public notice and request for information and proposals regarding the acquisition of land in Buzzards Bay.
The MSBA notice said the reason for the land acquisition was “to provide 150-200 additional beds of student housing capacity.”
But on Tuesday night the admiral told the selectmen, “We are not pursuing a large project either on campus or downtown.”
Instead, the academy will extend its lease at the Mariner Inn in Wareham, utilize the available space on board the academy’s training ship, and build a new dorm on the Beachmoor property that will house about 70 students, the admiral said. The hope, he said, is for the new dorm to be open by fall 2021.
The current student population at Mass Maritime, the admiral said, is 1,650 cadets. He added that roughly 97 percent of the students live in academy housing.
Adm. McDonald also pointed out that the academy recently purchased a two-acre parcel adjacent to the new Hampton Inn off Perry Avenue. The academy plans to construct a parking lot there for student parking. The lot, he said, would be open to the general public during summer months and for special events.
The proposed new parking lot brought a measure of criticism from Selectman James L. Potter. Mr. Potter said the property was meant to be a part of the economic development movement in downtown Buzzards Bay. Purchase by the academy takes the land off the tax rolls and prevents any significant commercial development there, he said.
The admiral assured the board that, if more parking is made available downtown, such as an MBTA-built garage to go along with anticipated commuter rail service, “there is absolutely nothing to preclude that parcel from coming back into play.”
Bourne Finance Committee chairman Mary Jane Mastrangelo pointed out 45 percent of the land in the Town of Bourne is owned by the state, which includes any MMA property. The state pays the town $525,000 on the annual cherry sheet for that ownership, she said.
However, she added, taxpayers pay approximately $6 million in property taxes to the town, which she considers to be disproportionate.
“I’m very happy to get money from the state,” she said, “but it’s an opportunity for the board of selectmen to lobby with our state Legislature and talk about that formula for state-owned land because there is a lot of value in the land the state owns.”
Despite Mr. Potter’s criticism of the Perry Avenue parking lot, the selectman also pointed out that there are other ways besides property tax revenue that the academy contributes to the local economy. He said that cadets patronize local businesses, such as pizza restaurants, which “supports the downtown, supports the community.”
Adm. McDonald told the board that the academy has hired a private company to do a study on the economic impact of Mass Maritime on downtown Buzzards Bay. He cited some of the statistics from the report, including the $525,000 property tax offset the state pays the town.
He said that Mass Maritime brings more than 10,000 visitors to Bourne every year, who bring business to store owners. The number of MMA visitors, he said, was used to secure the financing for the new Hampton Inn.
There are also 400-plus employees at the academy, 90 of whom live in Bourne, the admiral said. Collectively, he said, they spend in excess of $5 million annually in Bourne. The admiral reiterated his desire to work with town officials on ways to better the lives of Bourne residents and MMA cadets.
“I firmly believe that by working together we can advance the initiatives for all,” he said, “and advance the prosperity for our students and town residents alike.”