A historic naval gun marks the approach to Wiley Hall...

A historic naval gun marks the approach to Wiley Hall at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point. (Feb. 22, 2012) Credit: Newsday/John Paraskevas

Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood Tuesday detailed construction plans for the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, saying federal authorities need to do a better job of maintaining and repairing facilities.

The secretary met with midshipmen, faculty and staff to discuss a strategic plan recently commissioned to evaluate the school's needs and goals.

After the closed meeting in the academy's auditorium, LaHood told reporters the $54 million in construction projects include replacing the aging Mallory Pier -- one of two piers enclosing the Hague Basin -- updating the 1940s-era mess hall and improving the academy's electrical system.

Work is expected to start in the next few months.

A 2010 federal report about facilities at the school detailed more than $300 million in needed renovations, replacement and rehabilitation projects.

"The one thing that's kind of a black eye here is the facilities and we're going to do better and we're going to have the money to do better," LaHood said.

He said a panel would direct the process and seek insight on and off the 82-acre campus, which encompasses the former Chrysler Estate.

LaHood also said a new training ship to be stationed at the academy will be chosen within a couple of months to replace the Kings Pointer, which was transferred to the Galveston campus of Texas A&M University in December.

"We have identified a few ships," interim Superintendent Shashi Kumar said. "Those are being considered right now."

LaHood said the Kings Pointer "went somewhere else because it could be better utilized somewhere else. We want to make sure that we have a vessel here that can . . . really be a value to our students."

Asked about his vision for the academy, LaHood said his goals were to provide state-of-the-art facilities and the best educational opportunities for midshipmen, and to find a top-grade superintendent for the school.

Superintendent Philip H. Greene Jr., a Kings Point graduate, was reassigned in October after 14 months on the job. He was the third superintendent in as many years.The school is one of five U.S. service academies. It is the only one overseen by the department of transportation.

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