If you were on the campus of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy last Friday afternoon, you know what a beautiful day it was. With Parents' Weekend, Acceptance Day, and a gridiron contest against in-state rival SUNY Maritime (our Mariners won 19-14), the weekend sunshine couldn't have been better timed.
And adding to the glow were the arrival of the MV Liberty Star--the newest vessel in the Kings Point training fleet--and the announcement of a contract to begin the long-awaited reconstruction of Mallory Pier.
Dozens of midshipmen and their parents turned out to welcome Liberty Star – soon to be renamed the Kings Pointer, in keeping with Academy tradition. It was easy to see why they were so excited.
Before being reassigned to the Academy, the vessel performed solid rocket booster recovery missions for NASA's space shuttle program. In addition to its two combined 2,900 horsepower diesel engines, 7,500-pound deck crane, and double towing winch, Liberty Star features controllable pitch propellers and an auxiliary water jet thruster, combined with modern joy-stick dynamic positioning capability.
Dynamic Positioning Capability allows the vessel to hold its position with much greater accuracy--down to less than one meter—as compared to conventional propulsion systems. And because more and more contemporary vessels are equipped with this capability, the MV Liberty Star offers midshipmen a valuable training opportunity, the only Academy in the U.S. to offer its students a ship with this capability.
I went to work immediately to secure funding to repair the pier and many of the Academy’s other structures, which had not been updated since they were built in 1942. As a result, last Friday we were able to execute an $11.5 million contract to get this critical facility back into a state of good repair so we can once again boast that the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy offers the finest maritime training facilities in the nation.
This is all part of a deliberate effort on our part to make sure that Kings Point retains its position as one of the jewels among America's service academies. We’ve got a new strategic plan as well as ongoing renovation to several campus facilities. And we’re already seeing a significant turnaround in the Academy under the leadership of new Superintendent RADM James Helis.
In fact, in the latest rankings from U.S. News and World Report, the Academy ranks #2 among Best Public Regional Colleges in the North and #3 overall in Best Regional Colleges in the North. Kings Point also earned a nod for having one of the Best Undergraduate Engineering programs.
Now, this is great news, but I know we can do even better. And with the support of the many parents, alumni, faculty and students who came down to the pier on Friday to celebrate the MV Liberty Star's arrival on campus, I know we will succeed.