Cooper-John Trapp, Staff Writer
Looking to the generations ahead, a Master Planning Steering Committee co-chaired by Provost Jeannine Uzzi and the USM Foundation’s Cyrus Hagge is formulating an overarching plan for what the university will become. The committee, comprised of faculty, staff, students, community members and professional consultants conducted interviews, surveyed current infrastructure and analyzed mountains of data to create a the ‘Master Plan.’ President Glenn Cummings stated on the USM website that “a successful master plan will not only help us improve the look and feel of our campuses and surrounding neighborhoods, it will also help to increase enrollment, strengthen our academic programs, raise aspiration, and contribute to the entrepreneurial spirit of the university.”
Initiating and guiding this Master Plan are the nine goals President Cummings outlined at his inaugural breakfast speech on Aug. 27, 2015. While officials stress that the plan is in the planning stages, current models propose large-scale changes to both the Gorham and Portland campuses. The focus is to build a student-centered experience with green spaces, new academic buildings and facilities, a performing arts center and renovations to many existing structures.
Trevor Hustus, Chair of the Student Senate and a member of the steering committee, emphasized the process of analyzing current use of buildings on both campuses and how to more efficiently utilize the rooms and spaces already existing. Uzzi stated that only the facilities are in question and that the plan does not involve academic planning.
The plan is currently in the second of four phases. Phase one was ‘Analysis and Investigation’— information gathering and initial stakeholder engagement. Officials toured the three campuses and inspected all grounds and facilities. The Lewiston-Auburn campus was found to be in relatively good condition with its building not currently used to its fullest capacity. According to the USM website, “A decision was made to postpone action on the Lewiston campus pending a review of potential expansion of academic programs.” Therefore, the Master Plan will focus on the Gorham and Portland campuses.
Portland will see a majority of the changes. A new student center is proposed, as well as more student housing, which is a long time goal of the USM community and student body. Students and faculty can visit the Master Plan pages on the USM website to see all of the proposed changes in more detail.
When all construction is completed, the Portland campus will look more modern, eco-friendly and foster a sense of community that many, including Provost Uzzi, think are currently lacking.
“We are looking to give students more of an experience of campus life,” Uzzi stated. “The more ways we can entice students to stay on campus longer than just going to class and leaving, the better everyone’s lives will be.” This would help boost retention rates.
“We lose students,” Uzzi said, “they spend two years on the Gorham campus then want to move off campus in Portland, but to afford the costs they get a job, take fewer classes, and we end up losing them.”
On-campus housing in Portland is one way to keep students enrolled. Along with the student center, a large performing arts center will be built, relieving Talbot Hall in Luther Bonney of its role as main presentation and stage hall.
A major visual change on the Portland campus proposed is a green quad where the parking lot that borders Masterton Hall and Woodbury Campus Center currently lie. Parking would be shifted to the perimeter of campus, making the center of the campus a magnet for people and activity.
The USM Law School building will likely meet the wrecking ball. Recently ranked one of the ugliest academic buildings in the nation by Architectural Digest, the building may be replaced with a graduate center, possibly holding the conjoined Muskie School, MBA program and the Law School.
Despite the scale of action the master plan is leaning towards, officials insists tuition levels will not be affected.
“It hasn’t even crossed my mind,” said Robert Stein, Executive Director of Public Affairs. “Students are not going to foot the bill for this.” Funding will likely come from four sources: philanthropy, which the performing arts center will benefit from; state funding, in the form of bonds President Cummings is petitioning for at the state legislature; institutional monies, and public-private partnerships with local businesses in the greater Portland area.
Gorham has long been the residential center of USM, and that will not change with the Master Plan’s completion. Housing in Gorham needs renovation and some students will opt to live at the Portland campus, but the sense of connection between the shuttle-linked campuses will remain.
The Dickey-Woods dormitory in Gorham will not be renovated. Provost Uzzi stated that one possible version of the Master Plan did not even include the former freshmen dormitory, which is now shuttered due to asbestos. Whether it will be torn down or left to exist still remains unknown.
Over the next three weeks, committee members will be presenting the current details of the plan to the Faculty, Professional, Classified and Student Senates on campus. The upcoming public hearings will present different courses of action in as much detail that is currently available. Students can attend these events to share input to help shape the dynamic process.
Officials stressed the importance of student feedback in the Master Plan. Ultimately, it is for the benefit of the students, and therefore feedback and input is crucial.
“Tell us anything and everything,” said Hustus.
The first meeting is on Wednesday, March 28 at 6 p.m. on the seventh floor of Glickman Library on the Portland Campus. After that, a forum will be held in the Luther Bonney Talbot Lecture Hall on Thursday, March 29 at 12 p.m. The third event will be a public forum on Wednesday, April 4 in Bailey Hall Room 10 on the Gorham campus at 6:30 p.m.
After the public hearing forums, the students’ input will be considered by the steering committee and then a finalized plan will be created, to be submitted for approval to the university community and others in June.
Timelines on project completion remain uncertain. Immediate changes, short-term and long-term projects must be coordinated with funding, and construction must be planned around students to prevent noise disrupting classrooms or dormitories, before a set timeline can be made.
More information about the Master Plan can be found on the USM website, including a link to sign up for email notifications about of the forums. https://usm.maine.edu/president/master-plan