FALL RIVER — The destroyer, USS Joseph P. Kennedy Jr., was built fast and used hard.
Now, 73 years later, she needs a bit of a makeover.
Gov. Charlie Baker has a bill on his desk, asking him to free up money to do just that.
The Legislature, before ending is session on July 31, gave the governor the authority to borrow up to $5.5 million to preserve ships at Battleship Cove.
“The Battleship Cove Museum is the hub of our waterfront,” said State Sen. Michael Rodrigues, who sponsored the bill. “They are in need of some assistance.”
First on the list is the Kennedy. The 390-foot destroyer was built in eight months at the Bethlehem Steel Company in Quincy and entered World War II on Dec. 15, 1945. It served all around the world, including in the Korean Conflict and the Vietnam War, before being decommissioned in 1973.
She was towed to Fall River the next year.
“We did a ship survey in 2014,” said Stephen Ponte, director of facility maintenance at the museum. “We were told to do a hull overhaul ASAP.”
That wasn’t a surprise. Museum staff had already plugged leaks in the hull and worked out a protocol for shutting down interior hatches if a large portion of the hull failed.
“The Joseph P. Kennedy is really our number one priority,” said Carl Sawejko, president of the Battleship Cove Museum board. “We’ve been watching the hull for the last decade. We know she needs work.
“But we have a long wish list. We will prioritize it.”
The museum began raising money two years ago for repairs. The estimate for the work is in the millions of dollars. Once the money is raised, the ship will be towed to Boston to be placed in dry dock for new steel plates to be welded to the hull.
The steel on the hull started life little more than a quarter inch thick. Time, salt and barnacles have thinned the hull enough that now it might not withstand a blow from a floating log or the shaking of a strong hurricane.
The governor gets to decide now if the museum will get the cash.
“The legislature passed authorization for the administration to borrow for these projects,” Rodrigues said. “He does not have to spend that money. But to spend it, it has to be authorized.”
The local legislative delegation has already begun lobbying Baker and his administration to include the project in his capital budget, Rodrigues said. If it is approved, it will be in the budget document released on Jan. 1, he said.
Repairs to the gangway and the pier are also on the spending list for the museum.
“We need to look at the next 50 years at Battleship Cove,” Sawejko said. “Do we try to support all these ships?
“We are reinventing ourselves for the 21st century. We are looking at where we want to be.”
While that is underway, museum staff will do what they can to keep the Kennedy afloat, Ponte said.
“These ships were built fast,” he said. “They were going to war. Their expected lifespan was four or five years.
“No one planned to have these in the water for 70 years.”