Some have called it the gray tsunami.
With an average age of more than 50, the maritime workforce is one of the high-skilled, high-paying industries facing a large shortage as baby boomers prepare to retire.
Clatsop Community College is hoping a $20 million modernization and expansion of its maritime sciences program at South Tongue Point can help position the school to train the next generation of seafarers.
The college’s career-technical campus, the Marine and Environmental Research and Training Station, attracts maritime students from around the U.S., along with workers who come for professional development. The campus also plays host to automotive, welding and firefighting programs.
The college, with the only maritime program on the Oregon Coast, was recently named the state’s designated maritime training college. It is also poised to become one of several maritime centers of excellence, a federal designation that could provide more support.
The college has been exploring a $14 million capital campaign to match $8 million in state bonds it was promised by the state. Christopher Breitmeyer, the college president, has called the campaign an opportunity to help train people locally for high-paying, high-demand jobs and bring attention to a relatively hidden campus.
“I think that we have a very, very unique opportunity to serve our community, the region and really meet some national needs, in terms of the maritime industry,” he said during a college board meeting Tuesday.
Much of the maritime training takes place in the 23-year-old maritime sciences building staff say has antiquated utilities and technology not suited for modern education. Other classes are held in a small, deteriorating shack owned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers next door, and on the college’s training vessel, the Forerunner.
The $8 million in lottery-backed state bonds the college was promised require at least an equal match by 2021. Architects with SRG Partnership, contracted to create a master plan for the campus, originally looked at adding a second story to the existing maritime sciences building. But the building was constructed before more stringent seismic standards and is located on dredge spoils that could liquefy in a large earthquake.
“With liquefaction, the building can be expected to be moved anywhere from 2 feet vertically (and) 15 to 25 feet horizontally,” said Gary Danielson, a senior associate with SRG, during a presentation of the master plan to the college board Tuesday. “So a big jump for any structure.”
SRG found it would be more cost-effective to build a new 8,700-square-foot academic hall on a larger pad supported by more than 1,000 stone piers digging 60 feet into the ground to prevent the building from moving in an earthquake. Installing the piers is estimated at nearly $1.9 million, while the total cost of the new maritime building is projected to be around $20 million by 2021.
The college this week held listening sessions with local officials, maritime workers and potential supporters to publicize the capital campaign.
In addition to the new maritime building, the campaign would help pay to modernize welding and automotive classes; improve Liberty Lane heading into campus; build a new carport for vehicles being worked on by students; add new equipment such as ship simulators for the college’s programs; and build a nature trail.
Clatsop County voters in 2014 passed an $8 million bond measure as the local match on a $16 million rebuild of Patriot Hall, with the other half funded by state lottery bonds. Breitmeyer said the college felt the need to raise its own money to improve the South Tongue Point campus. Much of the donations would likely come from maritime companies and other groups affected by the training the college provides, he said.
The college board will decide in the fall whether to pursue a capital campaign. Consultant Catherine Crooker, who has said the campaign will depend on several multimillion-dollar donations driving interest, is approaching large potential donors and will provide a recommendation in the fall on whether the campaign is feasible.
Esther Moberg, a college board member, said she is concerned about the timing of a campaign, given the recent Patriot Hall redevelopment, and wants to make sure there is sustainable growth for an expanded maritime program.
Staff have estimated the college could handle double the maritime students it currently serves by adding courses to meet industry demand, Breitmeyer said.
“I’m pretty confident in those numbers, in terms of the growth and sustainability of the program, given the needs of the industry,” Breitmeyer said Tuesday. “Just today, there are 21,500 job openings — that’s today. As we move forward and people age out, there’s going to be even more.”