FAIRFIELD — Kennebec Valley Community College is taking its electrical lineworker technology program to new heights with a boost from Central Maine Power Co.

The program, which dates back to the 1990s and has helped train nearly 600 graduates for jobs in the utility industry, is in its first year at a new home on KVCC’s Hinckley campus.

The college’s dean of academic affairs, Kathryn Englehart, explained during an Oct. 31 celebration event at the newly renovated Nutter Field House that the move from KVCC’s main campus in Fairfield has given the lineworker program four to five times more space. That added room includes a dedicated classroom for the program, office space for faculty, indoor utility poles and an outdoor pole yard for hands-on, off-the-ground training.

Eric Willett, the program’s chairman since 2015, said the ability to conduct line training indoors is a welcome step forward.

“I think the biggest thing is the indoor training yard,” Willet said Wednesday. A former lineman with construction company Cianbro, Willett stressed that while the future linemen are trained to work in all types of weather, the option to train inside gives the program more flexibility.

A one-year certificate program, KVCC’s Electrical Lineworker Technology course covers a variety of subjects including electrical theory, line construction theory, rigging, safety, tree trimming and line clearance, and metering.

The $1.39 million renovation project at the Nutter Field House included financial support from CMP’s parent company, Avangrid. According to a joint news release from the college, company and Foundation for Maine’s Community Colleges, Avangrid’s philanthropic foundation awarded the project a $250,000 grant over the past five years in $50,000 installments.

“We always felt like this facility, this relationship with KVCC, was one of the most important ones that we had in the state of Maine,” Avangrid Networks CEO Robert Kump said at the ceremony Wednesday. He remembered visiting the school several years ago when the then newly renovated facility was only a vision.

“Seeing it here today, it’s truly remarkable,” Kump said.

Both Kump and CMP President and CEO Doug Herling emphasized the role that the program played in helping to develop CMP’s future workforce. Kump said he’s heard statistics that almost half the company’s lineworkers have come through KVCC’s program.

“What makes this program so important to us, is it closes the skills gap that’s out there in the industry for us to have to deal with,” said Herling, who called CMP’s 200 lineworkers “kind of the fabric of keeping the lights on, whether it’s a blue sky day or in the middle of a storm.”

When introducing Herling on Wednesday morning, Kump also said “you’ve probably seen him on a lot of ads,” an apparent reference to CMP’s TV advertising campaign earlier this year, in which Herling apologized for the company’s response to customer concerns in the wake of a billing controversy.

In addition to the grant award over the past five years, Kump said CMP and Avangrid have supported KVCC’s lineworker program over the years by providing equipment, poles, trucks and student scholarships.

“Because it’s so important, not only for the youth to have good-paying jobs when they’re done with school, but selfishly it’s important for us,” Kump said. “We as the utility are not unique to other utilities in this country, and we face an aging workforce.”

Derek Langhauser, the president of Maine Community College System, also spoke Wednesday on the Hinckley campus, referring to the more than $10 million gift from the Harold Alfond Foundation that enabled KVCC and the state community college system to buy 600 acres and 13 buildings several years ago from the Good Will-Hinckley school. That purchase allowed KVCC to create its Hinckley campus and now expand the lineworker program into its own facility.

Langhauser called the support from CMP and Avangrid “just one of many examples we have across the state where businesses are coming to us. They see the value of education, not just to their own business, but to the state of Maine itself.”

Langhauser said KVCC is the only one of Maine’s seven community colleges with a lineworker program.

“This is a very unique program, and frankly, that’s one of the reasons I’d like to see us be able to try to expand it,” he said. “We think there’s market demand for it.”

Langhauser noted that over 130 students applied for the roughly 27-person program this year. He said he would be talking to Maine’s next governor, regardless of who wins the Nov. 6 election, about “the importance of investing in our colleges” in the hope of helping more students access a program like this one.

“This is meaningful work, for meaningful pay, providing a meaningful service to the state of Maine,” Langhauser said. “And but for the generosity and the vision of Avangrid and Central Maine Power, we would not be here today, and we would not be in the position of being able to provide this service to the citizens of the state of Maine.”

According to the event news release, 91.3 percent of KVCC’s electrical lineworker program graduates are employed within six months and earn an average of $60,908. More than 570 students have finished the program since 1990, according to the release.

Mike Giles, a retired CMP employee who now works with On Target Utility Services, said Wednesday that he sees plenty of opportunity in the industry for young people, with a “tremendous amount of work” available. He said employment as a lineworker provides a chance to help people and to “make a damn good living” at the same time.

Current KVCC student Brody Porter, of Enfield, said he didn’t have any previous lineworking experience before starting the program this semester, but he knows people who have been through it and sees plenty of job opportunities on the other side of the yearlong program.

“It’s a lot of work, but it’s fun,” said Porter, 18, who had just climbed up and down a 40-foot utility pole as part of a demonstration at the celebration event.

He laughed when asked if someone with a fear of heights could do the job. “Not if you’re going to hang off the top of a telephone pole,” he said.

KVCC alumnus Shawn Poulin, of Benton, said he completed the program in 2005 and now works for CMP.

“It’s a good program,” Poulin said after the current students had put on their show. “They do a pretty good job preparing you for the real world.”

CMP’s president and CEO is hopeful the company can line up some new employees through the program again this year.

“This program is very beneficial for us, because we do have an aging workforce right now. A lot of our employees will be eligible to retire over the next five years, so having this program as a feeder program into our employee base is very important to us,” Herling said after the ceremony. “We hope to have some openings when this class graduates, and we’re going to be up here recruiting when that time comes.”

Matt Junker — 861-9253

[email protected]

Twitter: @mattjunker