It's official: the College is getting bigger—259 acres bigger, to be exact. On December 13, the College received final approval from the Department of Education (DOE) to acquire three parcels of land after Naval Air Station Brunswick (NASB) closes this year.

"We think we'll have the property by [the] spring of 2012, if all goes according to plan," said Senior Vice President for Finance and Administration and Treasurer Katy Longley. "Between now and then, there is just a lot more research, a lot more [to] study."

The land Bowdoin is preparing to acquire includes 146 acres suitable for development, though how exactly the College will use it is still in the preliminary stages of planning.

Possible ideas focus on using the land for environmental studies purposes, but also include proposals ranging from new athletic fields to a space for displaying art. The application approved by the DOE included a tentative outline for possible uses of the parcels, though no plans are finalized, according to Longley.

Land acquisition

Through a public benefit conveyance, the DOE will hand ownership of the land over to the College after the parcels are deemed fit for transfer by the U.S. Navy, at no cost to the College. As the Navy and the DOE work through the necessary steps to prepare the land for transfer, the College is focusing its efforts on figuring out logistics for development.

Though the December 13 approval for acquisition from the DOE comes as a big step forward for the College, "There is still a lot of work to do," said Longley. "[The College] is basically acquiring a raw piece of land, so we're engaged in a lot of different things."

"The Navy has to tell the [DOE] that the land is clean before the [DOE] can convey it to us," said Longley. "The Navy is in the process of looking over all of the NASB land, including the land we hope to acquire, and they will make a determination in the [Finding of Suitability for Transfer (FOST)] and then there may be a couple of areas on our land that they may need to remediate, so we're waiting for that."

Catherine Ferdinand, a project assistant in the treasurer's office working on the land acquisition, explained that there are about 18 locations the Navy is investigating for possible environmental contamination within the NASB site. Longley said that there are two locations in the Bowdoin parcels included in that number, a former bunker and a quarry, the conditions of which have yet to be determined by the Navy.

The College is looking to hire a land-use planner to help assess the "whole host of issues that you need to review and analyze before you start building," said Longley.

"When we submitted the plan to the [DOE], it was more conceptual, and now we're doing more of an in-depth analysis," she said. The land-use planner would assist the College in preparing for development by looking at environmental regulations, understanding the conditions of soil on the property, estimating what it would cost to bring utilities to the parcels, and working within permitting constraints, among other considerations.

"In terms of a timeline," said Longley, "we continue with our due diligence, the Navy does their record of decision and their FOST, and then, as we approach, probably, spring of 2012, we get back to the [DOE] and say 'We've done some more due diligence, we think the boundary might move here or there.'...We work on a deed description, and the Navy drafts a deed, the [DOE] reviews the deed, and then the land comes to Bowdoin."

The land and its proposed uses

The three parcels of land Bowdoin is set to acquire all lie within approximately two miles of campus, and adjacent to parcels the Department of the Interior is set to convey to the Town of Brunswick, according to Longley. The 269 total acres the College anticipates it will acquire is a decrease from the 450-acre parcel that it originally sought to acquire in September 2006, when Bowdoin made the first announcement of its desire for the land, according to past reports in the Orient.

The College decided to not pursue the acquisition of Building 644, which was identified for "use as an information technology [IT] data center to supplement the current data center in the basement of Hubbard Hall," as reported in the Orient on January 29, 2010.

Longley said that the decision was made after the College "couldn't determine that the building would be of value to the College."

According to Chief Information Officer Mitch Davis, IT is currently looking at two options to supplement the current data center. One possible facility is located in a vacated data center in Portland, and the other option is a site at NASB. A currently-anonymous Bowdoin alumnus is leasing buildings at the base and has "offered to house Bowdoin's backup data center at one of the locations for free or minimal cost," explained Davis.

IT wishes to expand the data center "at the least cost possible" while maintaining its commitment to protecting Bowdoin's data, said Davis, explaining that a number of variables would determine which site the College would pursue.

Longley emphasized that plans for how to use the NASB land are far from finalized; the only restriction the College is working under is that the land be used for educational purposes. Additionally, the Board of Trustees will need to approve any plans with a vote. Nevertheless, Longley and her team have spent much time brainstorming possible ways that the College might develop the land.

Parcel 1 is accessible from Bath Road, east of the College's Pine Street Apartments. The 12-acre lot was identified in the DOE application as the potential location for "a storage facility and warehouse space that might, in part, accommodate the display of contemporary art; and parking," according to the December 13 announcement on the Bowdoin website regarding the DOE approval.

"The storage [possibility] is farther along than the art concept [since] we would have to work with the art department and others," said Longley. "One of the frustrations, I think, has been that there is no place to have large installations or large art shows."

Mark Wethli, chair of the visual arts department, said on Tuesday that he had not been contacted by the College about such a proposal.

Parcels 2 and 3 lie east of campus along the far western side of NASB, running south along Harpswell Road. The application outlined the possible development of 104-acre Parcel 2 to include the "construction of athletic fields with parking and a service building [and] an interpretive nature trail that will accommodate student and faculty research and field studies in environmental studies and other academic disciplines."

Regarding athletics fields, Director of Athletics Jeff Ward said, "What goes there is really still to be determined. My guess is that we'll look to put club sports there first and maybe some intramurals. [With the current field setup] we are landlocked a little bit, particularly for ultimate Frisbee, [a club sport]."

The 143 acres of Parcel 3 were dedicated entirely for environmental studies in the approved application. Plans include "a classroom/lab building and parking; [facilities] to support sustainable food production, horticulture, and agriculture, including the construction of three greenhouses; a service building for equipment storage; and the extension of the interpretive nature trail."

Director of Environmental Studies Phil Camill worked with Longley and her team to draft the DOE application.

"[The property] tends to lend itself really well [toward use in] the natural sciences, but that's not to say that there aren't opportunities for the social sciences and the humanities to use some of the property," said Camill.

Camill said the property would be an asset to the natural sciences as a resource where students could conduct research in close proximity to campus. The land includes multiple habitat types—including grasslands, young and old forests, wetlands and ponds—and the prospect of College ownership means that professors and students could have more of a say in how the land was used, as opposed to gaining permission from Brunswick to conduct labs in town-owned areas, as has been done in the past.

Looking forward to the day that the property is open for use by students and the College at large, Longley said, "I think everyone is going to be most surprised by the number of mosquitoes [on the property]."

This article has beed edited for correctness after its original publish date.