Thursday, January 17th, 2019

From the closure of Bedford Street to dorms on campus, changes at USM are in the works

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Posted on November 12, 2016 in News
By USM Free Press

By Krysteana Scribner

In his presidential breakfast speech at the end of August, President Glenn Cummings discussed the changes that are planned to take place over the course of the next next few years. These changes, which include adding dorm rooms to the Portland campus and blocking vehicle access to Bedford Street, are aimed at providing students with a stronger sense of community connection, both within and outside the university.

According to a survey done last year by the Student Government Association, 82 percent of students expressed that they would live on the Portland campus if dorms were readily available to them, especially if the expense was below the market value of most housing costs in Portland.

Because of this, Cummings and his team took the initiative to get a master plan up and running. The planning, which will take up to 24 months, is only the beginning of the process. If all goes well, the projects themselves could be completed in as early as two to three years.

Under the plan,  Woodbury Campus Center will be demolished and the parking lot located in that area will also be removed. In its place, the university would like to have a grass quad, while the new dorms will be in an “L” shape and the student center would be located where the community garden currently resides.

These extra dorms on the Portland campus could provide up to 400 beds, so students can find convenience in knowing they are located not only on the campus where they have the most classes, but that they are within walking distance of downtown Portland.

With the elimination of the parking lot, President Cummings added that the parking garage will have to be expanded in order to accommodate the extra traffic that would be coming in and out on a regular basis. Along with that, the university plans to implement a project where Bedford Street will be completely closed to the public. This initiative aims to keep traffic within the university available to only those affiliated with USM.

“According to a survey done by Harriman Associates, who are collaborating on the planning, there are over 11,000 cars that pass through Bedford Street each day, yet only 35 percent of those vehicles belong to USM students,” Cummings said. “These are just estimates, but we’ve asked them to go back and do the survey again with their traffic engineer to be sure that the numbers are right.”

Emily Rudolph, a senior psychology major, stated that she would prefer that more parking lots like the one located next to the Woodbury Campus center would be scattered across campus near the main buildings. As a commuter student, she believes that the university’s choice to remove these smaller parking lots could negatively affect the students who commute to campus each day and have to endure the endless struggle of parking in the garage.

“I have a daughter, so living on campus has never been an option for me,” Rudolph stated. “I would like to see more of these lots simply for convenience reasons. I dislike having to park in the garage because it’s a long walk to my classes. Having the parking lot near Woodbury just makes being a commuter student so much easier.”

She also believes that, by adding dorms to the Portland campus, the student enrollment would also increase by tenfold. She explained that dorms here would be much more attractive and more conveniently located for students.

“The Gorham campus is not really central to a lot of people, so having a dorm location on the Portland campus would be a great thing for our university,” Rudolph said. “There is so much more to do here in Portland. It seems students prefer to be here than the Gorham campus anyway.”

With Bedford Street closed off, President Cummings explained that the traffic patterns will need to change around USM as well, but there is still a lot of planning and collaboration that has to happen in order to further the project.

He  suggested that the university is also still looking at ways people can come up Brighton Avenue and continue to Deering Avenue. This plan could eliminate the six-way intersection near the Law Building and make way for a roundabout, which could create  an easier flow for traffic.

“We want Forest Avenue to have multiple entry points, and it’s possible that the street could stop at the uphill end near Abromson and from there, we could create more green space for students to enjoy,” Cummings stated, “but what we have to ask ourselves now, before any detailed planning, is what is the best way to get traffic into the parking garage?”

With the closing of Bedford Street, Cummings said there are no specific plans to tear down the white buildings that are located along the strip. However, if that was something that needed to occur, USM would make the choice to do so.

“We would like to see those white house’s be rented out or leased to non-profits, where students could do internships and have the opportunity to connect with community partners right here on campus,” Cummings said. “If we did so, we would move all the student groups to the student center. These are all just ideas.”

Currently, the hope is to offer this dorm option on the Portland campus to upperclassmen and graduate students, so the space will not be readily available for just any student who is interested in them. Students would need to have 60 credits or more in order to apply for the housing.

“We want to be careful to balance out where we have our dorms located, so we don’t accidently hurt the Gorham campus,” Cummings said, further elaborating that the new dorms are projected to house up to 400 beds for students. “Offering the dorms to upperclassmen and graduates helps keep that balance, and it gives students some incentive to work hard and to have something to look forward to once they’ve reached these qualifications.”

With the six percent increase in student enrollment, Cummings stated that the dorms on the campus are currently filled, with some students living not only with one other roommate, but two. According to Cummings, having to put three students in a room together reflects the need to have more dorm space for students.

“The increased enrollment directly reflects the demand for housing on campus. We have 70 triples currently, and this makes a big case for why we need to add more housing to campus in the future,” he stated. “Most of the tripled dorm room students have been understanding of the situation, but we obviously want to give them more breathing space during their time here.”

Nasra Ali, a senior human biology major, explained that if dorms were available in Portland when she was a freshman, she would have jumped at the opportunity. As a senior, she felt that all the positive changes happening to USM were occurring as she finishes up her last year.

“When I was a freshman here at USM, my father was very ill. If there had been an option to live on the Portland campus, I would have taken that opportunity,” she explained. “I needed to be close to my family, and the dorms on the Gorham campus couldn’t provide me that. I ended up living at home to help care for my father.”

Cummings briefly mentioned that the university has been exploring its options regarding where to place a graduate center in the future. He stated that there is no question about it: This kind of addition would be a great thing for the university. The significant funders of the project, though, are still deliberating where it would be placed and whether or not they want to fund it.

Until then, the university will continue to strive for changes to the campus that would make students feel more welcome, and in turn, increase the popularity of USM over the years.



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