Last Tuesday’s election may not have been the flashiest or most controversial, but the passage of one of the referendum questions on the ballot is good news for USM.
University of Maine System Chancellor James Page thanked voters for the passage of Question 2, the bond issue for funding for STEM classroom and lab renovations throughout the University of Maine System, in a statement.
“Those upgrades will create immediate local construction jobs, and they will create a better learning environment for our students to receive education and training for careers that Maine needs, Maine employers have, and Maine students want,” Page wrote.
Dean and Professor of Technology Andrew Anderson told the Free Press in an email, “We are very appreciative the citizens of Maine have chosen, through approval of the bond, to support higher education in general and the needs of USM in particular. While USM continually works to find resources to maintain laboratories and equipment, funds such as those available through this bond are needed to make more significant upgrades.”
Detailing how much money will be allocated to six of its seven campuses, the Chancellor stated that USM will receive $4 million that will be used to renovate some of the labs at its Portland, Gorham and Lewiston campuses.
Regarding where the money will be spent, Anderson said in an email, “The actual bond indicated that funds would likely be used for the Bailey Science Wing in Gorham, Payson Smith Hall in Portland, the Science Wing in Portland and facilities in Lewiston. We will likely be able to complete a few major laboratory renovations and less extensive upgrades to several others. The actual number of laboratories that can be upgraded will be dependent on engineering studies of the spaces to determine associated costs. There are plenty of candidates and we will attempt to make the broadest impact possible with the resources available.”
USM needs to update equipment and renovate lab and classrooms in all of the science departments. Mike Callahan, lab manager for the Biology 106 class, said, “If the biology department does get any kind of money, the labs still have old microscopes that need updating. There would be a slew of emails going around to get some monies for improvements in the department.”
Anderson explained the lab manager position, “Each department has its own lab manager, who set up labs, might do lab teaching sometimes and provide support. Different units have different demands.” Associate Dean Charles Fitts added, “Lab managers order supplies, set up labs and run so many lab sections. There are a large number of majors and lab classes that it makes sense to have someone do it.”
According to an email from Anderson, “While we have a pretty good sense of areas of need, we will seek input from faculty and staff in further defining need and establishing priorities. While this is a substantial amount of funding, it will not meet all needs.” He further clarified via a phone call that none of the funds will be used for job positions.
Anderson indicated in the email that it is not known when the renovations will take place because they don’t know when the bond money will become available for the individual campuses. After the design work has been completed, scheduling will be the next issue that needs to be addressed since the rooms where courses currently occur might have to be moved.
When asked about the effect upon students at USM, Masina Wright a part-time faculty member in the nursing department, who teaches Botanic Therapies said, “Having more up-to-date equipment means you are on a more level playing field with richer schools.”
Dave Champlin, associate professor of biology, said, “Some professors have been here for 30-40 years and have not seen some of the labs renovated. It’s expensive to update science labs and is hard to justify with budget cuts. It will be money well spent. The number of science students is increasing. This is good news.”
Fitts confirmed that many of the lab spaces haven’t had major updates. “Bailey Hall was built in 1970 and hasn’t had a significant renovation, and Payson Smith has a lab that hasn’t been renovated either.” Although Anderson doesn’t have renovation records, he said, “We haven’t had major renovations in decades. Clearly, if you go around to the labs, you can see they haven’t had serious renovations in a long time.”
When asked about an increase in science students, Anderson said in an email that data tracked for the last three years shows growth, “Since 2011, the fall enrollment in sciences (Biology, Chemistry, Environmental Science, Geosciences and Physics) has increased from 516 to 551 (3.2 percent). There are other areas that have also experienced growth: Computer Science increased from 103 to 132 (28.2 percent); Engineering from 144 to 207 (43.75 percent); Linguistics from 59 to 80 (35.5 percent); Exercise Health and Sports Sciences from 351 to 385 (9.7 percent); and Recreation and Leisure Studies from 34 to 52 (52.9 percent).”
The effect of renovations on department interdisciplines is positive. “Another thing that’s exciting