Rob Asma eased his boat out of a dock at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy one recent morning as crews earlier this month began the work of replacing the academy's aging Mallory Pier.
"It's really exciting," said the marine technician, who has worked at the Kings Point academy for 17 years. "It kind of makes you proud. It actually shows we're moving forward."
Mallory Pier, built in 1942, was used for docking the academy's training vessels until the wooden structure became unsafe to use, dotted with holes and loose boards.
Richard Cain, assistant director of waterfront activities at the academy, said the pier has been closed about four years.
"It's pretty pivotal," Cain said of Mallory Pier. "Without the pier, the waterfront wouldn't have any protection from the tides and waves of Long Island Sound."
Construction will continue for 18 months, with the pier expected to be completed in the spring or summer of 2014 at a cost of $11.5 million, academy spokeswoman Marcie Katcher said.
The start of construction represents a boost to the academy, which has been plagued in recent years by a rapid turnover of superintendents, a 2009 federal probe that found the school overcharged midshipmen by $8.1 million in fees and mishandled money, and the loss of its flagship training vessel, the Kings Pointer, to Texas A&M University in 2011.
The academy received a replacement training vessel last year, the Liberty Star, that will take on the name Kings Pointer after it returns from its conversion this summer. It was once used by NASA in its space-shuttle program.
A 2010 report detailed $300 million in repairs needed on the academy's aging facilities, which the academy has begun addressing.
The academy has been using other, floating piers to dock its vessels, and the academy plans to keep fewer vessels in the water during construction in the coming season, Katcher said. The pier also protects Hague Basin.
The start of construction garnered a tweet from outgoing U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who on Feb. 8 boasted about the U.S. Department of Transportation "getting it done" at Kings Point.
"A 1st class maritime academy deserves a 1st class pier," wrote LaHood, who noted the poor condition of the pier during a tour in 2009.
Constructed in 1942
First pile on new pier driven on Feb. 6
The replacement cost of the pier is $11.5 million, $1.5 million less than initial estimates.