EASTPORT (AP) – The art of boat building is falling under the waves for a year at a downeast community college that has taught the skill for decades.

Boat building is a flagship program at Washington County Community College in Calais and Eastport. But last week officials cited declining enrollment and high program costs as reason to suspend the program for one year.

The news has come as a shock for graduates, many of whom argue the program may be what keeps the entire school afloat.

“It has been a point of pride for eastern Washington County for 30 years,” said Greg Rossel, 53, who graduated from the program in 1980 and runs a boat-building shop in Troy.

The community college has two campuses, the larger one in Calais. Its Marine Technology Center is in Eastport, where it is known simply as the Boat School, offers classes in boat building and marine mechanics. Twenty-four students are enrolled this year.

After the school’s announcement, staff members put together a question-and-answer sheet that said the suspension is the first step in reviewing a program for revision or discontinuance.

President William Cassidy said Thursday the announcement was not part of a movement to eliminate the program. The college has up to two years to revamp the program, he said.

According to school records, only seven graduated in 2003, six in 2002, four in 2001, and two in 2000. Numbers were even slimmer in marine mechanics, with just two graduates in 2003 and none in 2002.

Still, school officials recognize the importance of keeping the college.

“That program is part of our heritage, it is part of our present, and it is part of our future,” Cassidy said. “We are making every effort to retool it, to rejuvenate and regenerate.”

The community college, which has 26 faculty members and more than 400 students, is facing a $575,000 budget shortfall in the coming year.

A $163,000 reduction in state funding and escalating costs in health care, retirement, fuel and other expenses have been cited in the need to cut staff.

School officials have said they believe the college will fulfill its obligation to students already enrolled in the marine mechanics and boat-building technology programs, but that no new students would be recruited.

AP-ES-03-26-04 0216EST

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