A groundbreaking for a new wing of the Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences in East Boothbay saw a crowd of over 200 and bipartisan representation from state leadership on Thursday, Oct. 12.
The $30 million-plus expansion, set to be funded by private and public funds, is expected to bring new educational programs, research positions, laboratories, and a 300-seat forum.
Speakers at the event also noted expected economic contributions that are expected to result in Maine and further afield. The lab will see its 50th anniversary next year and focuses on ocean research.
Gov. Janet Mills and U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, both spoke at the event. Also in attendance were state Sen. Cameron Reny, D-Bristol, state Rep. Holly Stover, D-Boothbay, lab leadership, and others involved in the construction process.
“This groundbreaking … is really going to promote and push forward our quest to understand the fundamental foundation of global ocean health, and also how do we talk these scientific discoveries and translate those into technologies and products and other things that can really improve the planet and ensure the health of the ocean,” said Wendy Wolf, chair of the lab’s board of trustees.
Laboratory leadership expects the expansion to advance the lab’s reputation internationally, research, and education, along with developing commercial opportunities.
Collins attended to note her advocacy for over $12.3 million of congressionally directed spending toward the project through the National Institute of Standards and Technology. She also helped the laboratory secure funding to buy the land it is now housed on and attended its first groundbreaking in 2010, she said.
“The research done by Bigelow lab … is something of enormous benefit to the Gulf of Maine, our seafood and tourism industries, and our coastal communities,” she said.
Mills said she believes the laboratory will have wide-reaching effects with its research and discussed the opportunities for high school, college, and graduate students to study in the new Center for Ocean Innovation.
“By investing in ocean education and innovation, you prioritize the education of people who share the responsibility and the desire to protect our oceans,” Mills said.
The laboratory plans to open the 25,000-square-foot expansion by spring 2025. Speakers emphasized new space for student programs and funding to attract research scientists, along with environmental challenges in the ocean and the world at large that they believe laboratory research will help address. Warmer temperatures in the Gulf of Maine, methane gas capture, and carbon dioxide retention were listed as problems to address. Job growth in the “blue economy” is expected to result, according to speakers.
Microbe research was also highlighted as a focus for the new building.
The laboratory has grown rapidly in recent years, according to President and CEO Deborah Bronk, who said staff has doubled since moving into the East Boothbay building in 2012. Project executive Dave Thomas, of Consigli Construction Co., recalled when the first groundbreaking took place on the parcel in 2010. At that time, it held only a partially passable logging road, and he remembered Collins riding in his work truck to the ceremony when they briefly got stuck in the mud.
“We have 353,000 shovelfuls left,” he said before the project leaders and government officials put on their hard hats and vests to lift ceremonial dirt from a pile outside the existing building. A reception followed with recorded remarks from U.S. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine.
Work will begin this week, according to project officials. For more information, go to bigelow.org.