CASTINE, Maine - Officials at Maine Maritime Academy are considering a shift in the academic calendar in an effort to save on winter heating costs.
The college has put together three preliminary scenarios for changing the calendar that could save the college as much as $1 million in heating and other costs, and possibly more depending on how high the price of oil rises.
The price of fuel has become a challenge for MMA, as it has for other institutions, President Leonard Tyler told the board of trustees at its annual meeting Friday.
“We are looking at ways to adjust and to keep costs at an affordable level,” Tyler said.
Although the college managed to shift funds sufficiently to finish the 2008 fiscal year in the black, Richard Ericson, vice president for finance, said the college anticipates a $1 million shortfall in the 2008-09 fiscal year.
MMA representatives already have met with Gov. John Baldacci to request that the college be included in any supplemental budget appropriation that would help the college address fuel costs.
The three preliminary proposals for changing the calendar range from a minimal shift to a full, 60-day winter cruise for the State of Maine, the college’ s training vessel, according to John Barlow, vice president for academic affairs.
The simplest plan would be to start classes a week earlier in the fall, Barlow said. That would allow them to end classes a week earlier in December. And if MMA pushed back the start of classes by a week in the second semester, he said, that would lessen the amount of heat needed for the dormitory and classroom buildings during the coldest part of the winter.
“Every day in January that we don’ t have to heat those buildings to 65 degrees, that’ s a savings,’ ‘ Barlow said.
The college also is considering splitting the training cruise, sending students out for 30 days during the winter and for a second, 30-day cruise in the summer.
The third option would be to move the full 60-day training cruise to the winter months. While those changes would not reduce the million dollars or so of fuel the ship uses while it is at sea, changes to the training cruise schedule could reduce the amount of onshore fuel costs to heat the ship during the time it was away from the dock during the winter.
There are a number of things to take into consideration before making any of those changes, Barlow said.
“Approximately 45 percent of our students are not in the regiment [and do not go on the cruise],’ ‘ he said. “We’ d have to look at the effect on them.’ ‘
Also, students seeking a Coast Guard mariner’ s license have other obligations including cadet shipping and work opportunities during the summer that could be affected by a change in the academic calendar. Barlow said they also will have to examine the impact any change would have on athletic programs.
There are also physical considerations, according to Ericson. Most of the buildings on campus are of pre-1970 construction, and some are more than 100 years old. They were not designed to be shut down, then started up again during the winter. There may be some upfront costs to prepare the buildings for such a shutdown, he said.
Although Ericson stressed that the college has done only preliminary calculations on savings and has not conducted any in-depth study of the impacts of any of the options, he estimated that the college could save a half-million dollars in fuel costs alone by adjusting the academic calendar.
Meanwhile, the college is working to save energy costs in other ways. It continually conducts upgrades in lighting, insulation and other electrical equipment. This summer, the college is replacing the roof over the campus swimming pool and looking at operational changes in an effort to ease heat loss and reduce costs there, according to Stacy Ericson, director of facilities.
In addition, MMA, in cooperation with the University of Maine System, is conducting an energy audit of Dismukes Hall, the oldest and most heavily used classroom building on campus.
Stacy Ericson said the idea behind the study is to develop a plan for improvements to the building that would be paid for over time by savings in energy costs. The report from the audit is scheduled to be ready by the end of the month.
The college will continue to study options for changing the school calendar, and Barlow said no changes would be implemented during the current academic year. Some plan for a calendar change could be ready by fall of 2009.
In other action, the board members on Friday ratified a decision made last year to purchase the Abbott House and authorized board chair Victoria Larson and Tyler, with the concurrence of the executive committee, to move ahead with any action necessary to resolve issues related to the Abbott House.
The college faces legal action from the town of Castine over the purchase. The town has sought a preliminary injunction, preventing the academy from using the building, arguing that the building lies outside of the institutional zone established by the town’ s land use ordinance.
Mediation over the issue failed, and the parties are awaiting a court date on the matter.