FAIRFIELD — The region will receive an economic boost from a new slate of programs being offered at Kennebec Valley Community College, officials said during a groundbreaking ceremony Wednesday.
College President Richard Hopper said there will be a short-term benefit as the college brings more students and employees to Fairfield, but the real impact will be felt as a new generation of food entrepreneurs join the valley’s growing farm movement.
His comments came shortly before ground was broken for a new 16,500-square-foot academic building on the Harold Alfond Campus in Hinckley. At the site, new two-year programs centered on farming, food science and culinary arts will teach area students how to take advantage of an emerging industry.
Hopper estimated about 120 new students will participate in the programs each year, which would also generate nearly a dozen new full-time staff, not including new part-time faculty members.
The college currently employs 267 workers, including 45 full-time instructors and 127 part-time instructors for a student population of about 2,300.
But Hopper said the larger effect will be felt as graduates of the program take part in Maine’s agricultural industry, which the state agriculture department says has a $1.2 billion impact on Maine’s economy.
“KVCC graduates find jobs. Good jobs, in the local economy,” he said. “Approximately 95 percent of KVCC graduates work in Maine, and 60 to 70 percent of them work right here in Somerset, Knox and Kennebec counties.”
Hopper said he’s particularly excited about food science, which he feels can be overlooked despite the important role it plays in adding value to a farmer’s products.
“If you grow a field of rutabaga and you want to make rutabaga salsa, that’s what allows it to happen,” he said.
The college also plans to open a new food processing facility that will allow food science entrepreneurs to create innovative new products.
By investing in these agriculture-based economy, the college is wagering on the state’s food production future.
Hopper said an emerging local food economy in the Kennebec Valley will continue to grow, leading students to seek out the college’s programs, the only ones of their kind in the state.
Hopper said the college is in the right place, at the right time.
“This is one of the few regions in the country that has a rapidly growing number of small farms,” he said. “Maine is also home to a vibrant and expanding local food movement emphasizing fresh agricultural products from the Kennebec Valley.”
If he’s right, the college will have positioned itself as a major player in the state’s local food scene.
Gregory Powell, president of the Harold Alfond Foundation, and Carol Epstein, vice chairwoman of the board of trustees for the Maine Community College System, were also on hand to offer their remarks.
Powell expressed confidence in the direction the college has chosen.
“We know something really big is coming and we’re proud to be a part of it,” he said.
On Wednesday, the college also unveiled a new sign bearing the name of the 600-acre Harold Alfond Campus, which was acquired last year from the former Good Will-Hinckley residential school. Good Will-Hinckley closed in 2009 because of financial problems, but reopened on a portion of its original campus as a charter school called the Maine Academy of Natural Sciences.
The KVCC new building will contain classrooms, faculty offices, laboratories, and a tiered auditorium to support learning. Some of the existing classes offered at the college’s main Fairfield campus will be transferred to the new building, which is scheduled to open for students in fall of 2014.
The building is will be heated and powered by a combination of geothermal wells and solar panels.
It was designed by architects from SMRT, a Portland-based firm, and construction will be overseen by Benchmark Construction of Westbrook.