Topping-off ceremony celebrates milestone for Coast Guard Academy's Maritime Center of Excellence
New London — The new Maritime Center of Excellence at the Coast Guard Academy will serve as "the maritime front door" for the academy, speakers said Thursday at a ceremony marking a milestone in construction of the waterfront facility.
"We are going to have a fantastic facility that’s going to provide a multitude of resources for the academy and will truly serve as the maritime front door for our academy, as cadets and applicants enter in through it, and more importantly as our cadets and our ensigns exit through that front door and join our service," academy Superintendent Rear Adm. William Kelly said.
The afternoon "topping off ceremony" was held outside the center to celebrate the completion of the highest point of the building, with construction slated to be completed this fall, according to the school's alumni association. Flags and a small evergreen tree were placed on top of the highest beam in honor of the milestone. About 40 people, including New London Mayor Michael Passero, attended the ceremony.
The 20,000-square-foot structure will feature a "welcome center" for everything from receptions to large classes, as well as a 30-person classroom, rooms for collaboration and mentoring, a science and engineering lab, and a boat bay large enough to fit two of the academy's largest training sailboats simultaneously, according to retired Capt. Bob McKenna, Class of 1989, the alumni association's vice president of development. In nautical fashion, the facility is oriented north and the roof is designed to look like a ship's hull.
As a group of Coast Guard Academy leaders, alumni and supporters stood outside on the windy afternoon, retired Capt. Andrea Marcille — a member of the Class of 1989, president of the alumni association and a New London native — noted that such a day underscores the importance of the center.
"This building will provide the appropriate shelter for the academy's waterfront team to work on their fleet year-round, despite what New England weather throws our way," she said.
Cadets and faculty will be able to hold classes within the facility and, it will provide the perfect opportunity for crews and groups to "meet, work and soak in the proximity to the waterfront and the maritime environment," she added.
Marcille noted that the building's wooden arches, ceiling and teak decking recalls the Coast Guard's maritime heritage and that the project is LEED certified — Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design — a designation that recognizes environmentally friendly building design.
Randall Hogan, a member of the Class of 1977 and Maritime Center of Excellence campaign chair, said the building represents "excellence for the cadets today but also the cadets coming after."
The academy's beautiful Georgian architecture and parade grounds are already inspirational, and now its waterfront also will be inspirational, Hogan said.
"This is the new maritime front door for the world's greatest Coast Guard, and its source of its great leaders: the U.S. Coast Guard Academy," he added.
Donald Swanson, representing A/Z Corporation of North Stonington, the project's general contractor, said the center is a beautiful building and has a great honor to it, but also is helping the local economy. He said the project brings approximately 150,000 direct work hours. In addition, 26 companies in Connecticut were hired and more than 50 vendors brought material and equipment to the region. The building was designed by the firm SmithGroup, which has offices across the country.
The alumni association started the campaign for the center in 2018 "in recognition of the need to provide a world-class education, training and operations space on our waterfront," McKenna said. The association, in charge of fundraising for the project, has raised more than $22 million toward its over $25 million goal. The groundbreaking for the center was held in July 2021.
Marcille noted a "new legacy" has begun to rise in place of Pine Hall, which was demolished in May 2021 to make way for the new center. But she said a piece of steel from the original Pine Hall has been incorporated into the new building to continue the legacy and commitment to maritime training and education of Vice Admiral James Pine, who served as superintendent of the academy from 1940 to 1947. Pine organized the original crew that sailed the barque that is now named Eagle to the academy from Germany after World War II. Under his leadership, the academy quickly incorporated the Eagle into the waterfront training program.
After the ceremony, attendees toured the facility under construction.
In an interview after the ceremony, Kelly said young women and men come to the academy from across the country, but not all of them have prior experience on the water, and so the maritime institution introduces them to the sea.
He said the new facility will provide a venue where all cadets will come for classes, training and receptions, and where many likely will come for their first visit to the school. This means their journey at the academy will begin and then end on the water when they graduate and serve on a fleet.
"We're just excited to have a facility where we can literally welcome folks to the world's best Coast Guard," Kelly said.