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Quite substantial

March 11, 2010

USMMA facilities "at a tipping point"

The condition of the physical plant of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, Kings Point, N.Y., has "reached a tipping point."

Many facilities, including several that house and feed midshipmen, are in such poor condition that they are no longer capable of meeting the needs of the regiment. Others have reached the end of their useful life and are in urgent need of extensive refurbishment or replacement. Failure to improve the maintenance of the Academy's facilities and to aggressively invest in more suitable and modern facilities, including engineering laboratories and marine simulators, will result in the decline of the institution and risks the eventual loss of the school's accreditation.

Those are some of the findings of a "Blue Ribbon" panel commissioned in May 2009 to examine Academy facilities.

Panel members said that "after the first visit to the Academy grounds, it was evident ... that the Merchant Marine Academy facilities are in dire need of significant repair and replacement." They noted that "the deplorable conditions that currently exist did not occur overnight, and it will take a ten to fifteen year commitment to reverse the current trend."

Panel members found many USMMA facilities seriously deteriorated.

"Academic and support buildings were inadequately maintained, basic structural elements of some buildings were failing, electrical and plumbing support had deteriorated, and engineering laboratories were outdated. The pier facilities, dining hall, athletics complex, and two of the dormitories, were in particularly poor condition." says the report.

It warns that If current conditions are not alleviated and further deterioration occurs, the Academy will not continue to attract and educate a diverse and talented cadre of future maritime leaders.

Despite having been an early leader, the USMMA now lags behind other service academies in recruiting women. The Panel believes the poor condition of Academy facilities has contributed to this problem and says "the dilapidated condition of several of the barracks and the athletic facilities are inadequate for women's residence and sports programs and hamper recruiting."

The panel's report was formally released to Congress and to the public by U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood earlier this week.

"The U.S. Merchant Marine Academy and its midshipmen are a priority of the Department of Transportation, and it is our goal to restore the Academy to its place as a jewel among service academies," said Secretary LaHood.

Members of the Blue Ribbon Panel were selected for their knowledge of the maritime industry, management and administration of academic institutions, and current engineering and construction practices.

Recommendations of the Panel were:

Recommendation 1: The Academy and the Maritime Administration should jointly and promptly develop a Strategic Plan that links industry and U.S. national defense needs to Academy capital improvements. This plan should be supported by a thorough analysis of the future demand for merchant mariners, and a detailed facility needs assessment.

Recommendation 2: The Academy should hire qualified staff to conduct facilities planning, oversee the Facilities Master Plan, and manage the construction of future capital improvement projects. This staff should be consistent with the size and age of the facilities.

If the USMMA is unable to develop this capability internally, the Academy needs to enter into a long-term relationship with another federal organization that has robust facilities management capability. One obvious potential long-term partner would be the Naval Facilities Engineering Command, which specializes in sustainment of waterfront and campus facilities. High-level contact between the Maritime Administration and the Department of the Navy could establish this strategic partnership supported by a long-term reimbursable financial relationship.

Recommendation 3: The Maritime Administration should not initiate any major capital improvement projects until the Academy has hired the qualified staff necessary to properly oversee planning and construction.

Recommendation 4: Using a Strategic Capital Investment Process as a guide, the Maritime Administration should establish and oversee a formal process governing the development of USMMA's Capital Improvement Plan. Capital improvement projects forwarded by the Academy for funding should be consistent with the institution's approved Strategic Plan, and have sufficient initial design work accomplished to enable the preparation of valid cost estimates.

Recommendation 5: The Academy should hire sufficient qualified staff to conduct routine facilities maintenance. This staff should be consistent with the size and age of the facilities.

Recommendation 6: Consistent with the sustainment, restoration and modernization approach to life-cycle facility management Merchant Marine Academy funding should be restructured to provide for three separate funding streams: facilities maintenance, equipment, and capital improvements.

Recommendation 7: The USMMA requires significant capital investment to renovate existing structures, and replace those that no longer meet the needs of a modern educational institution. These investments should be consistent with a Strategic Plan, and funding should be provided only after the Academy has hired sufficient staff to properly oversee construction.

Recommendation 8: The USMMA requires significant additional funding to support facility maintenance and to prevent further degradation of the condition of the campus. To support this additional funding, the Academy should accurately identify the Plant Replacement Value (PRV) of all the facilities on the campus.

Recommendation 9: The USMMA requires additional equipment funding to replace existing maritime simulators and other electronic teaching aids, which are critical to maintaining the Academy's level of educational excellence.

Recommendation 10: USMMA's Strategic Plan should aggressively leverage new, cost effective learning technologies such as desktop simulators, and engineering laboratory electronic troubleshooting replicators to improve the quality of instruction and minimize cost.

Recommendation 11: The Maritime Administration and the Department of Transportation should revise the proposed capital improvement program to provide for sustained and substantially increased phased investment over the next ten to fifteen years.

You can download the report HERE

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