Biddeford Regional Center of Technology is eyeing the addition of culinary arts and hospitality programs to its repertoire and got the green light from the Biddeford School Committee to pursue the matter earlier this month. One issue is that the BRCOT, seen here, is full, so the programs would require a satellite location. Journal Tribune file photo/Alan Bennett

BIDDEFORD — The School Committee took an initial first step that could lead to the establishment of a couple of hospitality-related programs by the Biddeford Regional Center of Technology.

The school is eyeing a new two-year program in culinary arts and a one-year program in hospitality management, BRCOT Director Paulette Bonneau told the Biddeford School Committee earlier this month.

“It would be nice if students participated in both programs,” said Bonneau. She said the school could also provide training for adults.

The School Committee’s endorsement of the proposal is the first step in the process of approval for the programs by the Maine Department of Education, which provides funding for technical programs.

“We don’t know the where (or) the when,” said Superintendent Jeremy Ray. “We’re still working on all of those pieces, but it takes this part first.”

The two programs would be offered off campus at a satellite site, because there is no room at the BRCOT.

“We have run out of space at this point” at the center, Bonneau said.

She went on to say a developer had approached the school department about converting the former Smitty’s Cinema space in the Five Points Shopping Center to a location for satellite programs, but no decisions have been made.

An affirmative School Committee vote would be required before further work could be done on the proposal for the new programs, Bonneau said, and the application had to be submitted to the DOE by Oct. 1. If approved by DOE — and all other matters like location and equipment were to fall into place — the programs could begin as soon as September 2022. If the school department was not ready, that approval could be suspended for two years while logistics and other matters were worked out.

Anytime BRCOT surveys students, one of the programs asked for — even by students enrolled in other technology programs — is culinary arts, she said.

“We know the importance of it, it is an industry that is supported in this area,” said Bonneau, noting Old Orchard Beach and Kennebunkport as particularly busy hospitality areas. “Tourism is probably the number one industry in the area.”

Culinary arts and hospital programs are seen as a need in workforce development and meets student interest criteria, Bonneau said.

The Green Ladle, a program of the Lewiston Regional Technical Center, is considered the “golden” culinary arts program in Maine and she said she wants the Biddeford program to be golden  in southern Maine. “That’s my vision,” she said.

The goal is for the programs to start as soon as possible, Ray said, but he noted there was no satellite location in place and there are other hurdles. Setting up a kitchen is equipment-intensive, as is having the right space, he said.

“There are a lot of funding decisions to be made not only by the state, but locally, to make sure that in any satellite program we went into, the cost and any subsidy that comes needs to at least try to balance itself, (so) there is long term affordability for us,” said Ray.

He said there are several different options that will take some time.

“I can’t support it enough,” said School Board member Dominic Deschambault.

“I support it,” said Mayor Alan Casavant, the ex-officio chair of the School Board.

The vote to was unanimous.

In July, Biddeford City Council declined to allow public and private schools in the Industrial 3 zone, where the Five Punts Shopping Center is located. Some council members at the time said they would prefer a contract zone, rather than amending the existing zone, which would have opened the entire Industrial 3 zone to schools.

Comments are not available on this story.