Although the sounds of military planes buzzing overhead are familiar to today's students, the skies over Bowdoin will be silent in the future.
On August 24, the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) Commission voted 7-2 to close the Brunswick Naval Air Station (BNAS).
President George W. Bush now holds the BRAC list, which includes bases throughout the United States. Bush can choose to reject it in its entirety by September 23, though media accounts indicate that he is not expected to do so. If he accepts it, Congress may choose to reject the entire list. Otherwise, it becomes law.
Under the Department of Defense's original plan, BNAS would have stayed as an active military facility but would have been severely downsized.
Closure of BNAS will be gradual, with completion set for 2011. The P-3 Orion squadrons that currently call Brunswick home will be relocated to Jacksonville, Florida.
Brunswick will lose approximately 2,700 military personnel and more than 600 civilian positions, according to testimony given at BRAC hearings. Add thousands of dependents of military personnel, and the economic effect of closure on the Midcoast region will be significant.
President Barry Mills said the impact extends to Bowdoin.
"Brunswick has been a Navy and college town," he said in an interview with the Orient. "It will become a college town and will require us to recognize our responsibility in greater ways than we have in the past."
Mills said the College does not currently have plans in place to try to acquire portions of the base.
"Clearly, it could be advantageous for us to be able to acquire, for a variety of uses, land that might be available at some point in the future," he said.
"The idea that we would be building that far away is something that I think is future Bowdoin," Mills said. "You always have to think about future Bowdoin. But I do not think it is a tomorrow Bowdoin."
Mills said that he has offered the College's creative expertise to Governor John Baldacci, who is setting up a redevelopment board at the state level, and to local officials, who are creating a local redevelopment authority. The College was not directly involved in lobbying for the base to stay open, but has asked that someone intimate with Bowdoin's concerns be placed on both redevelopment bodies.
Mills does not yet know who will represent the College. He indicated that it could be a trustee or former trustee, but no decisions have been made.
Speaker of the House John Richardson represents Brunswick in the Maine House of Representatives. He is supportive of Bowdoin's involvement in the base's redevelopment.
"I envision the College and campus playing a key role," he said in a statement to the Orient.
"As one of the top employers in the region, Bowdoin has the educational, cultural, and human talent to play a central role in how the Midcoast region ought to be shaped," Richardson said. "We will draw on that experience and expertise to make the region even stronger."
Richardson will submit legislation to the House that will create a local redevelopment authority model, consisting of seven local community members, five individuals from the greater region, and two state officials.
"I think somebody from Bowdoin ought to be in that mix," he said.
Community Service Resource Center Director Susie Dorn is concerned about local civilians whose jobs depend on the base.
"An economic downturn in the area?though it may be temporary in nature?first and foremost affects those who are 'living on the edge' in this community, who are in fact more numerous than most students would know," she wrote in an email interview. "Very quickly, a working family can find themselves unable to pay the rent."
Dorn said that by supporting organizations like the Tedford Shelter, community members can do something now to help residents who may need assistance in the future.
Two other Maine military facilities were given good news by the BRAC Commission. The Commission removed the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery from the closure list. Had the shipyard closed, more than 4,000 people would have lost their jobs. The Defense Finance and Accounting Service office in Limestone was originally slated for closure. The BRAC Commission chose to keep the facility open and double the size of its staff to nearly 600 people.
James Baumberger and Evan Kohn contributed to this report.