FORT KENT, Maine — In the five years since the University of Maine at Fort Kent assumed ownership of the old Fort Kent Armory, more than $8.5 million in renovations, improvements and remodeling have transformed the structure into office and classroom space.

The university hosted an open house Wednesday to show off the building’s newest occupant: the UMFK forestry laboratory and lecture areas.

“We moved in in March,” David Hobbins, UMFK professor of forestry, said Wednesday. “It’s an ideal space, and it makes our [forestry] students feel really special to have their own space.”

Before the move, the students attended classes in Cyr Hall.

That space has been taken over by the UMFK nursing program, according to John Murphy, UMFK vice president for administration.

UMFK acquired the vacant building in 2011 after special legislation sponsored by Rep. John Martin, who teaches government classes on the campus, allowed the military to transfer the 17,700-square-foot facility to the campus for $1.

The building is next to the university. UMFK also got an adjacent 4,000-square-foot storage shed and 2 acres of land as part of the deal.

Two years ago, the University of Maine Cooperative Extension moved into a suite of offices in the building. Then, in 2013, the university began construction on a $4 million biomass system in the armory to heat 10 of the campus’ buildings and two buildings and neighboring Fort Kent Community High School.

“We have been putting the armory projects together in phases,” Murphy said. “Phase One was moving in cooperative extension. Then we started the biomass project as Phase Two. And now we have completed Phase Three, with moving in the forestry program.”

Future phases could include upgrades to the building’s exterior, he said.

“We are thrilled to have [the armory] as the new home of northern Maine’s only forestry program,” UMFK President Wilson Hess said Wednesday. “This will increasingly be the home of learning and research projects.”

In addition to classroom space, the forestry area houses a state-of-the-art Geographic Information System lab and upgraded Global Positioning System technology.

UMFK officials took the opportunity during the open house to officially recognize program alumni Joseph Mints and Spencer Caron, who have been recognized with Graduate Forest Technology Awards from the Council of Eastern Forest Technology Schools — the only two bestowed in the country this year, according to Hobbins.

The open house also included the unveiling of a series of paintings titled “The Pictorial History of Maple Sugaring in Maine.”

The five paintings by Caribou artist Chester Gage were donated by Ray and Sandy Gauvin of Mapleton and permanently will be on display in the armory building.

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Julia Bayly

Julia Bayly is a reporter at the Bangor Daily News with a regular bi-weekly column. Julia has been a freelance travel writer/photographer since 2000.