University of Southern Maine celebrates opening of Portland Commons residence hall, new parking garage

Both projects showcase USM’s commitment to environmental sustainability

The University of Southern Maine celebrated the opening of its first on-campus Portland residence hall and its newest parking garage with a ribbon cutting Tuesday, highlighting a turning point for the university. 

“This 580-bed residential hall will transform the campus, creating a hub for students from USM, Maine Law, and SMCC, solidifying Portland’s reputation as a college town and USM as the hub,” said USM President Jacqueline Edmondson.

Speakers at the ribbon cutting included University of Maine System Chancellor Dannel Malloy, University of Maine System Board of Trustees Chair Trish Riley, USM President Jacqueline Edmondson, and USM Director of Sustainability Aaron Witham. 

At just over 210,000 square feet, Portland Commons offers 580 beds in 385 units, including single-occupancy rooms, studio apartments, and larger apartments with multiple bedrooms and bathrooms. The four wings of the hall — two reaching five stories and two reaching eight stories — form a parallelogram that encloses a half-acre semi-private residential courtyard. Wrapped in floor-to-ceiling glass, the angular corner above the lower Bedford Street wing allows unparalleled views of the peninsula skyline and Back Cove. 

From left to right: USM Director of Sustainability Aaron Witham, University of Maine School of Law student Theresa Norman, USM student Simon Gabaree, USM student Aman Zunser, University of Maine School of Law student Natalie Jump, and USM President Jacqueline Edmondson

It is hoped the new residence hall will help ease some of the pressure on the city’s housing market. 

“Portland Commons is a transformative addition to the student experience at USM,” said Dominic Barraclough, Interim Vice President for Student Affairs and Vice Provost for Academic Affairs. “Undergraduates will now have a living experience in Portland to aspire toward during their first two years, and graduate students will have a place to live and find community and support while they complete their degrees.” 

Portland Commons provides on-site residential staff, events, and programs. One keystone of the building’s programming: connecting students with the Career & Employment Hub to ensure they engage in the opportunities needed to shift into the workforce after graduation. 

“This is a transformative milestone for our institution in providing access to housing and supporting students’ academic success,” said Christina Lowery, Director of Housing and Residential Life.

On track for Passive House Certification, Portland Commons is the second largest Passive House building at a university in the United States and is a top-10 largest Passive House building anywhere in the country. It is projected to use less than half the energy of a standard modern building. 

The new parking garage features approximately 500 parking spaces, 58 Level Two electric vehicle (EV) charging spots, and long-term secure storage for more than 250 bicycles — making this garage the largest Level Two EV charging station and the largest indoor bicycle storage area in Maine. 

“By building our res hall to earn Passive House certification, and by making alternative transportation front and center in our new garage, we’ve decided we aren’t taking baby steps anymore. We are now taking big strides toward our commitment to be a carbon-neutral university by 2040,” said USM Director of Sustainability Aaron Witham. 

Portland Commons was developed, designed, and constructed in partnership with Capstone Development Partners of Birmingham, Elkus Manfredi Architects of Boston, PC Construction of Portland, and SMRT Architects and Engineers of Portland, while Steven Winter Associates served as the Passive House Consultant. The parking garage was handled by Desman of Massachusetts and PC Construction. 

“This transformational project shows what can be accomplished through a public-private partnership,” said Walker May, Executive Vice President Capstone Development Partners. “Capstone and our design-build team are gratified to have helped USM address its student housing goals and fulfill its commitment to its students through the cost efficient delivery of attainably priced student housing. It is gratifying that USM and Capstone delivered this Portland Commons project on schedule and to the standard of quality mutually desired despite the pandemic-related market and financial upheaval. Together we celebrate the delivery of this student housing community that will serve the USM Portland campus for generations to come.” 

At $74 million for Portland Commons and $23.5 for the new parking garage, both projects are coming in at budget.  Early study and design work for the garage cost about $197,000 and was funded by unrestricted university resources. Full design and construction of the residence hall and the garage were funded through revenue bonds approved by the University of Maine System in 2020.