AUGUSTA — The Harold Alfond Foundation announced a $10.85 million gift to the Maine Community College System and Good Will-Hinckley at a news conference Monday at the Blaine House.
The gift enabled the state’s college system to purchase 600 acres and 13 buildings from Good Will-Hinckley so Kennebec Valley Community College can expand its enrollment and course offerings.
It also will boost Good Will-Hinckley’s Maine Academy of Natural Sciences. The magnet school, which opened last fall, focuses on hands-on learning, agriculture, sustainability, forestry and work and living skills. In its second semester it has about 20 students.
Good Will-Hinckley Executive Director Glenn Cummings and Maine Community College System President John Fitzsimmons signed 34 documents Monday morning completing the sale of 600 acres of the Good Will-Hinckley campus to Kennebec Valley Community College.
Negotiations had been in the works for about two years and was made possible by the Harold Alfond Foundation’s $10.85 million gift.
Fitzsimmons said the foundation’s donation heralds the birth of a new college campus and the rebirth of Good Will-Hinckley, founded by the Rev. G.W. Hinckley in the 1880s.
Fitzsimmons said Harold Alfond, the foundation’s namesake and a noted philanthropist, dreamed bigger than most. He also said the foundation’s gift would inspire the fulfillment of many more dreams.
The Maine Community College System will use $4.5 million of the gift to buy the middle 600 acres of Hinckley’s 2,450-acre campus, as well as Averill High School, an organic farm, the Harold Alfond Recreation Center, Moody Chapel and other buildings alongside U.S. Route 201 in Fairfield.
Buoyed by $2.5 million from the Foundation for Maine’s Community Colleges and $2 million from Maine’s Community College system, $9.85 million also will be spent on upgrades and construction at the new Kennebec Valley Community College campus.
With the expansion, Fitzsimmons said the Fairfield college will be able to increase its enrollment by 2,000 students, to nearly 5,000.
“Thousands of Mainers will be able to obtain an affordable college degree and have a better life,” Fitzsimmons said.
Barbara Woodlee, president of Kennebec Valley Community College, said officials would be good stewards of the new campus, which is about six miles from its current 64-acre campus in Fairfield.
The lone institution of higher learning in Somerset County has come a long way since it began in 1970 with classes at Waterville Senior High School, said Woodlee, the college president for 28 years.
Plans at the new campus include building a dormitory and adding an associate degree in agriculture sciences.
In addition to the $10.85 million gift, the state of Maine will provide $750,000 in annual operating costs at Kennebec Valley Community College and $530,000 in annual funds for residential programming at Good Will-Hinckley.
Gov. Paul LePage said they are wise investments.
He said the state’s economy would prosper by having a strong education system that heeded the needs of the market.
“It’s all about the kids,” he said, calling community colleges “catalysts that will transform the economy.”
LePage also praised the hands-on education provided at the Maine Academy of Natural Sciences.
“This is the type of innovation that Maine can benefit from,” he said. “The mountain will always be there, and there are a lot of ways to get to the top.”
Cummings has previously said that the academy would have been a great fit for LePage when he was a youth.
One of 18 children in a poor, abusive family, LePage left home at age 11 and lived on the streets of Lewiston for two years. He later graduated from Husson College and the University of Maine, and he was general manager of Marden’s and mayor of Waterville before he was elected governor in 2010.
Cummings said he appreciated LePage’s support of the academy, especially in these fiscally tough times.
Good Will-Hinckley, Cummings said, has benefited children for decades, including Rep. Helen Rankin, D-Hiram, an alumna.
Rankin wiped away tears Monday as Cummings told a story about Rankin treasuring a letter written decades ago by the Good Will-Hinckley headmaster. In the letter, the headmaster had praised Rankin for capitalizing on her talents and intelligence.
Today, Good Will-Hinckley is turning out to be a good fit for Adam Micheller, a senior from Hartland.
Last year, Micheller said, he worked a lot but didn’t attend many classes at Nokomis Regional High School. This year, Cummings said, Micheller hasn’t missed a class at the academy, where he lives in one of the cottages.
“It’s nice to have everyone around helping me,” Micheller said after Monday’s news conference. “It’s like home.”
Micheller said he plans to become a firefighter and emergency medical technician.
Included in the $10.85 million grant is $1 million for Good Will-Hinckley when the Maine Academy of Natural Sciences obtains charter school certification.
Cummings said he couldn’t help but think the Rev. G.W. Hinckley, founder of the home-school-farm for orphans in the 1880s, had helped orchestrate Monday’s miracle. Cummings said that in the post-Civil War era, Hinckley ensured young orphans had caring homes and a solid education.
Cummings said the financial gift from the Harold Alfond Foundation would provide for children eager to learn from throughout the state with similar care and opportunities.
Gregory Powell, chairman of the Harold Alfond Foundation, said Monday’s event was like a Fourth of July celebration. He said people from different political parties had worked together and made something special happen.
Powell said Harold Alfond believed that people should “have a good job” and “do a good job” and that education was the key to both.
“Education is no longer a luxury; it’s a necessity,” Powell said.
Beth Staples — 861-9252