By Ben Theriault, Staff Writer
The new USM master plan has hit a brief obstacle during its final stages of development. The 128th Maine Legislature decided to adjourn on Thursday afternoon, April 19 without addressing many major bills, leaving the USM master plan budget temporarily in the air. The session extended from Wednesday night into Thursday morning when an agreement could not be reached in the legally allotted time.
The session was in a gridlock between democrats and republicans who disagreed on issues such as medicare expansion, the opiate epidemic and changes in tax code. This discourse led to adjournment with over 120 House and Senate approved bills left in legal limbo. To extend the session by five days, a vote with a two-thirds majority would be needed to pass. Maine House Republicans decided against this, believing democrats initially had ample time to address these measures.
Amongst the tabled bills is a $75 million general spending request for the University of Maine System, $33 million of that bond would be put towards USM. If this bond passes through the legislature, it would then go to the voters to decide on. The general purpose of this bond package is to expand STEM and nursing education, improve spaces on all seven campuses, and bring jobs and investments to the community. Without the passing of this bond, the Master Plan may be stalled for next year.
Pre-planning began in the Spring of 2017 and has been progressing consistently into this spring. The final plan is currently being reviewed and will be approved as soon as late May and no later than early June.
Substantial changes to the Portland campus will occur over the next five to ten years. The goal is to “enhance the commuter experience while simultaneously creating a welcoming residential community.” To do this, they plan on maximizing efficiency of space, making the campus design more pedestrian oriented, prioritizing necessary redevelopment and phasing out buildings that: do not “contribute to the character of the campus” or “represent the best use of land resources.”
The cylindrical law building and other surrounding buildings, the Woodbury Student Center, the Facilities Management building and the numerous white houses all face phasing out. In exchange, a dorm holding 300 beds will be erected where Woodbury is with another 200 bed dorm behind it, the Woodbury parking lot will be transformed into a green space, the law building will be replaced by a 160-space parking lot that will then transition into a 500 sport parking garage and Bedford Street will close, uniting the campus.
Renovations are being considered for Luther Bonney Hall, Payson Smith Hall, science buildings A and B and the Sullivan Gym, due to poor existing conditions.
Along with these changes, a new career center will be built perpendicularly to Masterton and Woodbury, a new Facilities Management building will be constructed on the land currently being used for the law building, a building will be put adjacently to the current parking garage and another will be placed near Payson Smith Hall. These two unnamed buildings will be used for a new Graduate Center and a Center for the Arts, however it has not yet been established which building each will be assigned to.
Many of these aesthetic changes have been planned due to the realization that the center of the campus, the Woodbury area, is a parking lot. The placement of a green space there is believed to create a “student life quad” that will be an open space.
The biggest change would be the theorized 50 million dollar Center of the Arts, which will have a 1,000 seat auditorium. It is intended that this portion of the plan will be funded through philanthropy. They have found this addition to be particularly necessary, as Russell Hall has been deemed insufficient for many performances—last year USM lost the chance to host the All-State Music Festival and Maine Music Educators Conference due to the lack of accommodations. This change will optimistically usher in new cultural events that will engage the Portland community.
The Gorham campus is currently planning to phase out Dickey Wood; the printmaking and drawing studios; 7, 19 and 51 College Street; and 62, 126 and 134 School Street, due to poor conditions, small sizes and inefficient utilizations of space.
Renovations and updates will be made to Upton-Hastings, Robie-Andrews, Anderson, Woodward, Bailey Hall, Russell Hall, Corthell Hall, the Academy building and Brooks Student Center. There are currently plans for four new buildings and an extension of the Costello Sports Complex.
Although the bond did not pass there is a chance it may still be considered. The legislature is scheduled to assemble Wednesday, May 2 on a “veto-day” to address bills rejected by Governor Lepage. Unfortunately this session seems to have no direction and Republican Director of Communications, Krysta West, stated that there were no plans to deal with unfinished business like school funding.
If funds are obtained, the most immediate changes will be renovations and repairs to existing buildings on both campuses. The new master plans can be viewed at usm.maine.edu under the section “Office of the President.” For the current status of the bond request and more information about what the bond is intended for, visit www.maine.edu/invest for more details.
**A correction has been made to the amount of the bond in question, updated information was provided by Samantha Warren, Director of Government & Community Relations for the University of Maine**