Rebuffed by Scituate, the officials behind the Ocean Campus Center could abandon the proposed location on the Driftway in favor of one in a different, less demanding town.
According to Jeff Rosen, head of the Marine and Environmental Educational Alliance Inc., when Scituate rejected the alliance’s proposal for the center, the town was no longer a high priority.
“We’re not closing the door, but our opinion was the way we set this up, Scituate had first right of refusal,’’ Rosen said. “As far as the board is concerned, they have exercised that. We’re not sure what happened or why. Whatever it is, it’s a failure for the town to live up to its commitments, as far as we’re concerned.’’
Rosen said his group has been in talks with people from Marshfield, Quincy, Weymouth, Hull, and several North Shore towns about the project. Plymouth is also a possibility, though there have been no discussions with anyone from that town, Rosen said.
Until a location is chosen, the group is moving forward with a $100,000 feasibility study - funded by the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative - aimed at demonstrating an industry need for the center.
The Ocean Campus Center is envisioned as a postgraduate trade school for people seeking skills in the marine industry. Partnered with Massasoit Community College, the school would provide two-year degrees in areas such as boat mechanics, waste-water treatment, and offshore renewable energy support.
The $100,000 originally was going to be used for permitting and community outreach for the Scituate site. But that will be put on hold while the alliance’s steering committee decides where to go.
“As soon as the word came out about the refusal, we’ve had inquiries from at least six or seven other towns that would like it there,’’ Rosen said. “We’re going to proceed with meeting with those people, we have laid out some criteria for evaluation, the board will meet on that, and we’re going to look at all options. If Scituate wants to participate, they will have to get in line with everyone else.’’
The group’s Scituate proposal was rejected Feb. 8 because of an incomplete bid proposal, town officials said.
In a letter to Rosen, Town Administrator Patricia Vinchesi said there were seven parts of the town’s request for proposals - for the sale of 27 acres on the Driftway and development of a maritime and environmental studies center there - that were not answered.
Vinchesi said the alliance failed to identify any permits or approvals necessary for the project, provide a detailed development schedule for all elements, list the primary respondent and related principals, and demonstrate a readiness to begin substantive permitting work.
Additionally, the letter outlines how the group did not demonstrate experience with current projects, list evidence of financial strength to carry out the proposal, or list potential funding sources.
Rosen did not disagree that his group failed to meet several requirements, but said that if the town truly wanted to work with the organization, those requirements wouldn’t have been included in the request for proposals.
“They wanted us to demonstrate that we’ve built buildings before,’’ Rosen said. “We haven’t - they knew that. If they meant for MEEA to be a viable candidate on this, which we created, why would they put something like that in there?’’
Rosen said the Marine and Environmental Educational Alliance could not demonstrate a minimum of five years of experience in the field because it has only existed for three years, and could not demonstrate the finances necessary to build the center as banks would not begin discussions with the alliance until it had found land on which to build the school.
Furthermore, requirements stipulating that the land wouldn’t be leased or rented to a third party were a problem for the potential partnership with Massasoit, and provisions for the ongoing payment to the town in lieu of taxes still needed to be addressed.
“It looked to me like the RFP was written in such a way that the town administrator would have an escape method should anything come up,’’ Rosen said. “I believe when the Friends [of the Driftway group] started yelling and complaining, that someone at Town Hall decided it wasn’t worth the trouble, and they built that into the RFP.’’
Friends of the Driftway has publicly opposed the Ocean Campus Center since late January. It sent a letter to the state inspector general’s office citing concerns about the request for proposals.
Vinchesi previously stated the Friends’ objections had no effect on the town’s response to the bid, and recently said the requirements exist to protect the town.
In an e-mailed response, Vinchesi wrote: “The regulations that must be met are complex and are designed to safeguard the town’s interest when selling land bought with taxpayer dollars. It is not a matter of simply leaving things out that a potential respondent can’t meet; it is required to be an open, competitive process that is fair and transparent and why minimum requirements are mandated to be included in any RFP.’’
But according to Victor Milligan, a member of the Scituate Economic Development Commission, which first looked at the Ocean Campus proposal, the town administrator and request for proposal board’s decision to reject the proposal outright rather than give the Board of Selectmen a chance to review it sends a troubling message.
“I think what is troubling is how the decision was made,’’ he said. “Everyone knew that there was going to be a gap between the RFP and the proposal, and that there was a real and important opportunity to have the selectmen see if they can bridge the gap.
“But to preclude the selectmen from participating in the decision, and to preclude the residents the opportunity to debate the pros and cons at Town Meeting does not make sense, especially given the profile and importance of the’’ Ocean Campus Center.
Regardless of the changing tides, the need for the center still exists, Milligan said.
The commission sees the center as a catalyst for growth for the maritime industry, he said, and would attract businesses the way high-tech firms are attracted to MIT, though on a smaller scale.
He added that he saw the center “improving revenue opportunities for our town’s merchants and restaurants, and creating job opportunities for residents, especially fishermen that are limited to how often they can go to sea.’’
Numerous state and local officials have expressed support for the project. State Representative Jim Cantwell, a Marshfield Democrat who has been behind the proposal from the beginning, said that people still want the center.
“Less than 48 hours after the announcement [of the rejection], we had a meeting in Marshfield with over 30 business and community leaders, people very excited about trying to make this happen,’’ Cantwell said. “The folks from Scituate that worked so hard to bring this to the state’s attention, show the need for this comprehensive program, should be very proud. Already they have made a big difference.’’