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Board of Trustees authorizes new residence hall, career and student success center for USM’s Portland Campus

The project will bring 580 beds of affordable housing to Portland, part of a proposed 1,000-bed university housing initiative that would attract, retain, and prepare more career-ready college graduates for the Maine workforce with new housing at Farmington, Presque Isle, and Portland campuses by 2023.

Orono, Maine -- The University of Maine System Board of Trustees today unanimously authorized the expenditures of an additional $93.7 million dollars to develop the 580-bed Portland Commons affordable student housing residence hall project and the Career and Student Success Center on the Portland campus of the University of Southern Maine. 

A bird's eye view of the new one-acre quad, residence hall, and career and student success center that comprise the Portland Campus Development Project

A bird's-eye view of the one-acre campus green, Career & Student Success Center, and Portland Commons Residence Hall that comprise the Portland Campus Development Project, which the University of Maine System Board of Trustees unanimously approved today. Construction on the three new facilities is set to begin later this spring and be complete by June 2023. 

The Portland Campus Development Project is part of a series of proposed housing initiatives that could bring nearly 1,000 new residence hall beds to the Farmington, Presque Isle and Portland campuses by 2023 to attract, retain and prepare more career-ready college graduates for the Maine workforce.

The $26.6 million USM Career and Student Success Center includes $19 million in funding authorized by voters as part of the $49 million 2018 Workforce Development Bond for the University of Maine System. The three-story, 42,000 square-foot building will house dining and several student services as well as USM’s expanded Career and Employer Services programming to better connect students and employers.

The University of Southern Maine provides every student with an opportunity to complete an internship through their academic programs. Since the inception of the USM Career Hub almost four years ago, the number of students participating in internships has risen from approximately 40 percent to over 70 percent. USM has a goal of connecting 100 percent of its students with career services and increasing employer engagement exponentially through the new center with on-site interviews, workshops, career fairs, meetings and daily interactions with students and career service professionals.

USM's new Career and Success Center

Seen from Bedford Street in Portland, the new three-story, 42,000-square-foot Career & Student Success Center will overlook a one-acre campus green that will serve as a natural entry point for the University of Southern Maine’s Portland Campus. The Career & Student Success Center will feature a new dining facility, study spaces, expanded Career & Employment Hub offices (focused on workforce development in Maine), Student Activities and Student Government Association offices, and the University’s Diversity and Multicultural Center.

“In response to Maine’s acute workforce challenges, the Board of Trustees has established strategic priorities for the University of Maine System that include greater workforce and employer engagement, higher student enrollment, retention and completion, and long-term fiscal stability,” said Board Chair James Erwin. “The Board has carefully scrutinized USM’s proposal against these priorities and the intent of the Maine voters who supported the System’s workforce development bond. Our authorization includes a directive to System leadership to track and report on how the Portland development project impacts enrollment, experiential learning, retention, financial performance, and other key indicators of success.

“USM is a vital asset for the people of Maine. President Cummings and his team have brought forward a bold, strategic investment in the heart of the state’s economic hub,” continued Erwin. “We appreciate their hard work and vision and will be closely tracking how the project improves public higher education capacity to serve students and employers.”

The Portland Commons Housing Project is projected to be cash-flow positive in year one with a commitment from USM to direct free cash flow to capital expenditures to address deferred maintenance in other campus facilities. The resolution adopted by the Board includes survey data on the demand for housing among students, budget and source of fund details, and background on financial projections and project development. See the link for the Feb. 24, 2021, special meeting.

This flyover tour of the three-story, 42,000 square-foot Career & Student Success Center shows how the new facility will house dining and several student services as well as USM’s expanded Career and Employer Services programming to better connect students and employers.

1,000 New Housing Units for Maine Students

"Attractive, affordable student housing can make a big difference in how fast and well our universities prepare career-ready college graduates for the Maine workforce," said Chancellor Malloy. "Today the Board authorized a project that brings 580 modern, affordable residential units to Portland where the cost and scarcity of housing is a huge burden for students and their families."

A view of the new Portland Commons Residence Hall on USM's Portland Campus

Adjacent to the new Career & Student Success Center on Bedford Street will be the new Portland Commons Residence Hall, a 580-bed, 218,000-square-foot facility housing USM undergraduate students in their third or fourth year, USM and University of Maine System graduate students, Maine Law students and residential staff.

“Next month the Board will get an update on student housing reinvestment strategies for our universities in Farmington and Presque Isle,” continued Malloy. “These projects have the potential to develop nearly 400 units of modern housing in support of student attraction and retention strategies at two of our rural residential campuses."

More than three-quarters of the residential space (77%) in the University of Maine System has a renovation age of greater than 50 years, which makes student housing the oldest facilities by function across the UMS. The annual facilities report will be shared with the Board of Trustees at the March 3, 2021, Finance, Facilities, and Technology Committee (3/3/21, Tab 7, p. 110).

As part of that meeting committee members will also get an informational update on student housing reinvestment strategies under development at UMPI and UMF (3/3/21, Tab 8, p. 175) and capital projects underway across the System financed with the support of the voter-endorsed workforce development bond.

“The cost and scarcity of housing in Portland puts USM and Maine Law students in competition with area residents for places to live and creates a tremendous barrier to student success,” said USM President Glenn Cummings. “The 580 beds of affordable housing we are bringing to our Portland campus gives us opportunities to grow enrollment of both traditional and adult students from out-of-state where application growth is occurring. Additionally, student success will see a win as on-campus students progress faster and persist to graduation at higher rates than their off-campus peers.”

“Maine is looking to its public universities to deliver solutions for our state workforce needs,” continued Cummings. “We are investing the resources the voters approved in the University Workforce Bond to build stronger employer connections and pathways to Maine-based careers for our students.”

UMS TRANSFORMS and the Maine Graduate Center

The Harold Alfond Foundation’s historic investment in Maine and its people includes a $240 million commitment to the University of Maine System to bring transformative change to the state’s largest educational, research, innovation and talent development asset. That work is advancing as the UMS TRANSFORMS initiative.

The grant to the University of Maine System includes a $55 million investment to further the work of the University of Maine Graduate and Professional Center. Maine Law Dean Leigh Saufley leads the initiative and President Cummings and Faye Gilbert, Executive Dean of the Maine Business School at the University of Maine serve as co-lead.

“Maine needs a critical mass of leaders who are connected, highly prepared, and focused on the knowledge economy," said Dean Saufley. “New housing that can attract and support graduate and law students and the well-designed collaboration spaces that reflect educational changes and provide broader access through new technology will be a boon for law students, professional and graduation programs, and students throughout the University's programs."