Sen. Curry's Remarks on the Future of the Hutchinson Center in Belfast

Posted: April 26, 2024 | Senator Curry

The following is a transcript of the remarks Sen. Chip Curry gave in the Maine Senate on April 1, 2024, regarding LD 2231, “Resolve, to Promote Access to Education and Workforce Development by Transferring Ownership of the Hutchinson Center Property in Belfast to the City of Belfast.”

Thank you, Mr. President. I oppose the pending motion. 

Waldo County is a rural district with over 40,000 people spread over 730 square miles. That’s 54 people per mile. Within our 26 communities, we have hundreds, even thousands, of people who have invested their time, talent, and treasure into the institutions that are essential for community life: schools, ambulance services, health clinics, assisted living facilities, general stores, fire departments, youth programs, soup kitchens, child care facilities, churches. Looking back on our history, we recognize that these institutions almost always exist today because of the investment and sacrifices made by people years, even decades, prior.

We all celebrate our community leaders, and we find them in towns and cities of all sizes. I also recognize that Waldo County is not the most rural area of Maine and do not pretend to know in detail the challenges our most rural counties face. 

As financial pressures mount, institutions reorganize, and technology advances, more and more of our community institutions are forced to join larger networks or organizations. We’ve needed to join regionalized efforts and centralize support services like finance, HR, and IT in order to preserve the delivery of rural services. The challenge is that in joining these regional organizations, our cherished community institutions become someone else’s “distant outpost.” Far too often, leaders of these state-wide or regional systems have a hub-spoke mentality, with the hub becoming the central focus and the spoke too often ignored, starved of resources, and ultimately abandoned.

This push for centralization is not new; it’s not based on new efficiencies due to technological advances. Those of us from more rural areas understand it simply as the latest expression of power. State-wide Institutions far too often confuse empire-building with the successful pursuit of their mission or the promotion of the common good for all Maine people. Too frequently, our state-wide leaders would prefer we acted like compliant customers happily accepting these changes while paying for less and less quality service year after year.

On behalf of my rural district, I’d like to say to the state-wide leaders who now control our essential community institutions: We see what is going on, and there is a reason we’re angry.

  • When you close our nursing homes and send our elders miles away, we see you.
  • When you choose to save money by dropping rural state patrol, we see you.
  • When your funding formula means that our rural highways will never be properly repaired – or our schools adequately funded, we see you.
  • When you “Re-Brand” our hospitals and disrespect the legacy of giving that built it, we see you.
  • When you close our Higher Education Center and put its future out to bid without ever meaningfully engaging the community that invested millions in it, we see you.
  • And when state government fails to hold these institutions accountable and ensure they serve all Mainers, rural Mainers see us. 

Essential institutions in rural communities are prized because there are so few. When you lose the general store, nursing home, clinic, elementary school, or ambulance service, there is not another one 10 miles down the road. When we lose these institutions, the quality of our lives is lessened. It becomes a harder place to live. A harder place to attract new families. And when we lose too many of these institutions bit by bit we are no longer a community but instead a crossroads. 

Maine is a rural state. It defines us. Yet far too often, the march of “progress” makes it harder for us to exist. Progress for rural Maine too often means loss; loss of access to health care, education, and economic opportunity. We need to value rural life and rural communities. We must respect the hard-won community institutions and support our rural communities to be vibrant places with an outstanding quality of life. We all need to do better for our rural communities. 

I sponsored this legislation because people who live in the Midcoast or are deeply connected to Waldo and Knox counties invested millions of dollars in the Hutchinson Center. They invested with the intention of increasing access to post-secondary education in the Midcoast. I am saddened that the University of Maine wishes to dispose of the facility. I am angered that the University has failed to meaningfully engage the people of the midcoast to determine how we can ensure this essential community asset is used to increase access to education and workforce development for the people of Midcoast Maine.

Out of respect for those who have invested their time, talent, and treasure in this facility, I will be voting against the pending motion and ask you to do the same.