By Deklin Fitzgerald
Numerous student testimonies, both included and withheld, have regarded the Portland Commons Housing to be “expensive”, “beautiful”, and “exciting”, yet they have all described the cost of housing to be high but manageable compared to housing in the City of Portland. So a question raised was what is the definition of highway robbery? The Merriam Webster Dictionary defines highway robbery as one of two definitions. They are 1.) robbery committed on or near a public highway usually against travelers and 2.) excessive profit or advantage derived from a business transaction, respectively in that order. Now that might not be the case with The University of Southern Maine’s new Portland Commons, featuring the also new McGoldrick Center for Student Success.
A question for you, the reader, do you think the Portland Commons is a moot point? No matter your response, I urge you to read through this article and leave your mind open.
On June 2, 2023, the Free Press was given the opportunity to tour the two buildings in question, but before we get into that, let’s take a look at a brief history on the project.
2018 saw former USM President Glenn Cummings come together with the Public-Private Partnership Committee (P3) to plan an initiative that would further enhance student success, student access, and community partnership by building what would be known as the Portland Commons. An attempt to replace the former Woodbury Student Center with the McGoldrick Center for Student Success, featuring the Woodbury Student Help Desk, and a fully functional and ecologically friendly residence hall capable of housing up-to 580 enrolled students.
2019 saw the University of Maine System (UMS) acquire the services of Washington D.C. based Brailsford and Dunlavey. A marketing team that determines the necessity of a project in addition to their implementation advisory solution that closely supports “the project through financing, design, and construction” from start to finish. It was also determined that Birmingham, Alabama based Capstone Development Partners would assist in developing a dream into a reality. Capstone Development was chosen by the evaluation team due to their rich history, spanning over thirty years, in supporting access to higher education.
Many might remember that back in 2008, the once-new Upperclass Hall was LEED’s certified. Being the first residence hall in the State of Maine to receive that Certification. The Portland Commons, however, will receive a different certification. A PHIUS certification.
In a plan that started as a dream around five years ago has finally reached the last stage of finalization. The Portland Commons will ultimately provide more than just dorms and new meetings spaces for students. The final outcome of the Portland Commons project will highlight the accomplishments of the hardworking staff of PC Construction, based out of South Burlington, Vt. The dorms themselves are considered PHIUS certified.
PHIUS, is a company that believes in “a zero-carbon future”, their certification determines whether or not a project meets the criteria to be considered, Passive Housing. Their criteria requires that the project in question provides:
- Continuous insulation throughout the building envelope without thermal bridging
- Air-tight envelope without loss of conditioned air and infiltration of outside air
- High-performing windows that maximize solar gain during the heating season and minimize it during the cooling season
- Balanced heat and moisture recovery through the ventilation system
- Minimized space-condition systems
According to the PHIUS website, the criteria of a “Passible building is a set of design principles for attaining a rigorous level of energy efficiency while also creating comfortable indoor living spaces” meant to help achieve success, no matter the goal.
With the University having pledged to be carbon free by 2040, the Portland Commons were designed to be as energy efficient as possible. With the final product ultimately landing the new Portland Commons in the “top five largest passive house residence halls in the United States” upon completion.
According to the University of Southern Maine’s website, the overall cost of the Portland Commons is just shy of $100 Million US Dollars. With the overall cost of The McGoldrick Center hitting $26.6 Million US Dollars: “$19 million in State of Maine bonds and $7.6 million in private philanthropy“, and the Dorms themselves averaging out at a “$72.8 million budget” will solely be funded through University of Maine bonds.
While all rooms feature an “XL Bed” and “en-suite bathroom”, a closet, desk, chair(s), and bureau’s. Not every room will have direct access to a kitchen, washer(s) + dryer(s), a common room, or entryway. Although the Portland commons does feature six different living situations for matriculated students to enjoy the comforts of, the prices can be considered highway robbery compared to that of living on the Gorham Campus.
With the room and board rates of the Portland Commons for the 2023/24 academic year being posted. You will have the ability to look at their prices for the typical nine month contract. Each room, their price, and what is included, follows.
The first of the six different room types is the Single with en-suite bathroom, rounding out at $4,130 US dollars a semester, this room only includes a Full XL bed and en-suite bathroom.
The second of the six different room types is the One-Person efficiency apartment, rounding out at $6,250 US dollars a semester, this room includes a Full XL bed, an en-suite bathroom, and full kitchen.
The third of the six different room types is the Two-Person single pod, rounding out at $3,995 US dollars a semester, this room includes two Full XL bed(s), an en-suite bathroom, and an entryway.
The fourth of the six different room types is the Two-person single, rounding out at about $5,765 US dollars a semester, this room includes two Full XL bed(s), an en-suite bathroom, full kitchen, a common area, and both a washer and dryer.
The fifth of the six different types is the Four-person double apartment, rounding out at about $4,590 US dollars a semester, this room includes four Twin XL bed(s), an en-suite bathroom, a full kitchen, a common area, and a washer and dryer set.
The sixth room style is the Four-person single apartment, rounding out at about $5,260 US dollars a semester, this room includes four Full XL bed(s), an en-suite bathroom, full kitchen, a washer and dryer set, and of course a common area.
Looking at this prices initially, one can see that it is an immense price gap compared to living on the Gorham Campus next fall. With the highest room and board cost barely attaining $4,750 US dollars a semester for nine months.
Assuming that out of the reported 577 beds, with each bed being accounted for at a price of $4,130 US dollars respectively represent in the order of semester and yearly payments from students living in the dorms a semester. At the end of the semester and academic year the USM system will see a pre-bill revenue of:
- Two million three-hundred and eighty-three thousand and ten dollars
- Four million seven-hundred and sixty-sixty thousand and twenty dollars
Both incomes are entirely relative towards the Portland Common.
President Jacqueline Edmondson provided a statement for this paper in response to being asked about their position regarding our new residence hall and center for student success. This was her response:
“The Portland Commons provides an opportunity for students to live in the heart of Portland, with beautiful views of the campus and Back Cove as well as easy access to campus and city life. I am eager for students to enjoy this new space and the Passive House design. Our Gorham campus housing also continues to be in high demand, and we expect full occupancy in the fall. Gorham residence halls provide a quiet living environment, with easy access to our theatre, music, art, and athletic programs. I am quite proud of the fact that the University of Southern Maine provides different housing options for students so they may find the best fit for their needs and goals.”
Edmondson clearly and efficiently manages to highlight the benefits of the view and the accessibility and integration of student life with neighboring Portland. While also explaining that the Portland housing isn’t for every student, with athletics and art being in close proximity with the Gorham Campus.
Food for thought… Weighing all of the pros and cons of housing options applicable to USM students, if money was not an issue. Would you rather live in Gorham or in the new residence hall? There is a question that arrises with that hypothetical situation, it is what is the right answer if money is in the equation… That isn’t for me to answer, however, going forward you can weigh each decision as if there are an unknown quantity of tickle-down-effects.
Understanding from a conversation this journalist had with Director of Residential Life, Christina Lowery, in September of 2022. It was understood that the new housing options, are centered primarily around Graduate and University of Maine, Law Students. However, from there it becomes a trickle-down-effect, where remaining rooms can be filled by Seniors, Juniors, Sophomores.
An idea that was hopeful to many of the students this previous semester was that the new housing would eliminate the need for “enhanced occupancy”, however, in a recent partnership between the University of Southern Maine and Southern Maine Community College has frustrated several students. The “USM Connected Pathways“, allows for up-to 150 SMCC enrolled students with purviews of continuing their education to live in the brand new Portland Commons as they take SMCC courses and pay SMCC prices.
A conversation with President Edmondson shed light on that idea that the Southern Maine Pathways will ultimately allow for an easier and more accessible transition from Community College to a bachelors degree, and potentially a graduates program.
A student, whom wishes to remain anonymous explains how they fear that although the housing within The Portland Commons will provide comfort to upwards of 577 occupants, the question of whether or not the University will admit over comfortable capacity in Gorham remains unanswered.
In terms of the architectural design behind the Portland Commons, the ground floor consists of a communal kitchen, administrative offices, a bike rack room, study and seminar rooms, and an entryway. With each window being spacious enough to allow adequate lighting and providing a sense of flow to the spirit. According to a portion of the USM website focused on the Portland Campus Construction, there will be “a long horizontal canopy” covering the cross walk from the Muskie School of Public Service, or better known as Wishcamper, to the Quad before the McGoldrick Center on Bedford Street.
Meanwhile this building consists of two different sections. Section one only goes up to the fifth floor, whereas section two climbs to a whopping eight floors. At the peak of the eighth floor, at the corner of Durham and Bedford Street, is a room with floor-to-ceiling glass that allows for residents to have “unparalleled views of the peninsula skyline and Back Cove” throughout the year.
Speaking with students to gain their perspective on the buzz around the portland commons, has allowed for this reporter to gain a deeper understanding on where the student body resides with this project.
Sophomore Psychology Major, Monnica Withee, explained that along with herself, their friends, were “excited about there being a dining area on the Portland campus”, especially since their major is based out of Portland. Despite the fact they are not living in the new dorms, due to pricing and simply they couldn’t “afford to live there this year’,’ given the extraordinarily high room and board fees. Monnica clearly stated that although the pricing is “a little absurd”, the architecture of the project “will brighten up the campus” year round.
The adjacent building is the McGoldrick Center for Student Success overlooking the L.L. “Bean Green” quad. According to the University Website behind the Portland Campus Development Project, the architecture of the McGoldrick Center includes materials that are all “authentic, natural, and rugged”, in short meant to be energy efficient and long lasting. It was also included that the mass timber framing was purposefully selected as a nod towards this state’s forestry business over the years.
The McGoldrick Center, named after Carolyn and Richard “Dick” McGoldrick, for their contributions towards student success. The center will feature new offices for the Career and Employment Hub, several study lounges, a dining room for bigger groups, a bar for students and faculty over 21, individual staff offices, a reception room that can be separated to form three smaller sized banquet rooms for meetings and other various clubs and activities.
In terms of their transition to the McGoldrick Center for Student Success, Director of the Career and Employment Hub, Andrew “Andy” Osheroff released a statement to the Editor-In-Chief of The Free Press that:
“Our team at the Career & Employment Hub is elated to be part of the transformation of the Portland campus and the greater USM community. With the McGoldrick Center for Career and Student Success taking a central place on campus, it is our hope that more students will engage in the broad set of services and opportunities that we offer from the moment they step on campus. It is our vision that this space will truly act as a Hub, uniting students, faculty, staff, employers, and alumni to foster a vibrant community to ensure students are able to reach their aspirations. Plans to make use of the dynamic space have been underway for well over a year, and we are excited to launch a number of new programs and events during the coming academic year. Stay tuned and please stop by and check out the space!”
-Andrew “Andy” Osheroff
Overall, covering about 218,000 square feet, top to bottom, left to right, the entirety of the Portland Commons Project is truly a beautiful sight, ultimately making “the campus a more welcoming, attractive, and safe place” for students, alumni, faculty, and even visitors to this institution. The construction of this project and projects to follow will only help to propel USM into the future.
- “It is only when we take chances, when our lives improve. The initial and the most difficult risk that we need to take is to become honest. —Walter Anderson
So with a student focused ideology, this university has yet to answer the biggest question. The question that I, the writer, will leave you:
“How can this University help you, on an individual level, to succeed?”
The Staff at the Free Press would love to hear your response to that question.
Email us at [email protected] today!