Scott Knapp is retiring in August after serving as president of Central Maine Community College in Auburn for 23 years. The campus is seen behind him. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

AUBURN — When Scott Knapp was being interviewed for the job of president of Central Maine Technical College, he said he would stay at least four years.

That was in 1997.

“I was thinking eight,” he said in a recent interview. “I never imagined 23.”

Knapp, 73, will retire Aug. 31. He has been the longest-serving college president in Maine history.

During his tenure, the technical college transitioned to a community college and tripled its enrollment to 3,000. It has opened three new academic buildings, a residence hall and an athletic complex, renovated most of the campus and installed high-tech programs.

Through a contract with Ford Motor Co., its automotive program serves all of New England.

“We have some incredibly innovative equipment on campus,” Knapp said. “Through the Ford Asset Program, the campus is exceptionally well-equipped, among the best in the country.”

Its esports program caters to a growing trend of online gaming.

“The lab is just absolutely beautiful,” Knapp said. “It’s a work of art, just jaw-dropping.”

He noted that a recent esports game attracted more viewers than the World Cup. Its best players earn a million dollars a year, he said. The prize pools of the top 10 professional games in 2020 ranged from $350,000 to $35 million. Viewership ranged from 61,800 to 3.9 million, according to lineups.com.

Knapp said the U.S. Army is getting people into esports and the Naval Academy is looking at adding a program.

“The next war will be won by the country that has mastered digital (warfare),” he said.

Knapp’s leadership in the development of such programs reflects innovation, Bill Cassidy, chairman of the Maine Community College System board of trustees, said in a prepared statement.

“(Knapp) did more than grow Central Maine Community College,” Cassidy said. “He made it a place of excellence.”

The best part of the job, Knapp said, has been seeing thousands of students graduate and get jobs.

“The majority are out there working, raising families and paying taxes,” he said.

The low? “Right about now,” he said. Because of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, many programs will be taught online this coming school year.

But not all trades can be taught online.

“A lot of hands-on programs have to be done in person,” he said. “We will do that with a whole lot of safety precautions.”

A native of Green Bay, Wisconsin, Knapp was working in Terre Haute, Indiana, when he heard of the job at the technical college in Auburn that was “perched for the future.”

He had experience in moving a school from technical to community college, he said. He wanted to steer this transition.

“Some thought we would lose sight of the technical mission, but we have more programs now and more students,” he said. “We have doubled the number of tech programs. That counts for a lot.”

Aside from Knapp’s great interest in steering the college into the future, his wife had wanted to move from Indiana and live on the ocean, he said. They moved to Scarborough when he got the job.

As for what’s next, Knapp plans to take it easy for a couple of months and enjoy retirement.

“The truth of the matter is that I had planned to retire earlier, but the past eight years I was having way too much fun,” he said.

“They always say that if you really enjoy your work, you’ll never work a day in your life,” he said. “I didn’t want them to know it didn’t feel like work. I was afraid they would quit paying me,” he joked.

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