A year after voters barely turned away a catch-all higher education bond, the state’s higher education institutions are making highly targeted pitches on three separate bond measures on the Nov. 5 ballot, spelling out just how taxpayer money would be spent at each institution.
Two bonds, each totaling $15.5 million, would mostly pay for renovations or new construction of science, technology, engineering and math buildings at every campus of the University of Maine and Maine Community College systems. Education officials are providing details on just what projects would be funded, right down to buying microscopes for UMaine Presque Isle and new doors at Kennebec Valley Community College.
A third bond, for $4.5 million, would help pay for a new $14 million science building at Maine Maritime Academy in Castine.
Last year, the Legislature put forward a single $11.3 million bond for all three institutions, which failed, 350,590 votes to 334,580. Education leaders said they asked the Legislature to break up the requests this year.
“When you put several organizations together, it really dilutes the message so it gets confusing for the public,” said Maine Community College System President John Fitzsimmons.
University of Maine System Chancellor James Page agreed that it was helpful to be able to make a specific case for the system’s needs. For the UMaine System, there is a pressing need to upgrade aging infrastructure, targeting high-demand academic programs in the STEM fields. STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
“I look at this primarily as a jobs bond,” Page said. “(The funds) are rehabilitating STEM labs and these are jobs that Maine has and needs. Our engineering graduates are being snapped up.”
The last successful statewide higher education bond measure was in 2010. It provided $15.5 million to be shared by all three institutions to make energy efficiency upgrades.
Page said that even if the $15.5 million bond passes, it is “frankly a drop in the bucket” to catch up on deferred maintenance on the University of Maine System’s campuses. The system has 9 million square feet of facility space, and 36 percent of it is more than 50 years old.
These particular projects, however, are meant to target facilities used for high-growth academic programs in STEM fields. Upgrading these programs is critical to staying competitive, because would-be students visiting the campuses need to see that the school is taking these disciplines seriously, Page said. Having modern, well-equipped lab space is a recruitment and retention tool, in addition to being the best learning environment.
“People have choices,” Page said. “When they go and visit, or go online or call friends at the school, they see these facilities.”
Last year, the UMaine System enrolled about 31,000 students, and the campuses are all pushing to increase enrollment as state funding stays flat and expenses rise. Overall, enrollment has been on a decline, and officials say improving facilities will help attract and keep students, adding to the overall health of the system.
The UMaine System bond, Question 2, would pay for the following projects:
n $5.5 million, Orono campus, to invest in renovations, capital improvements and equipment in classrooms and laboratories to support science, technology, engineering and mathematics disciplines.
n $1.2 million, Augusta and Bangor campuses, to renovate and upgrade science and nursing laboratories.
n $1.2 million, Farmington campus, to renovate the science facilities in Preble Hall and Ricker Hall, including approximately four laboratories.
n $1.2 million, Fort Kent campus, to renovate and expand the nursing laboratory and to support geographic information system technology for applications in the forestry industry.
n $1.2 million, Machias campus, to renovate and improve Powers Hall (including repairing its exterior), which currently houses music and art classrooms, the performing arts center, art gallery, administrative offices and student services, and for laboratory upgrades in the science building.
n $1.2 million, Presque Isle campus, to renovate and upgrade space, equipment and furnishings (including microscopes and fume hoods) in laboratories for the science, technology, engineering and mathematics programs.
n $4 million, University of Southern Maine campuses (Portland, Gorham, and Lewiston), to renovate science laboratories, including those for biology, chemistry, physics, geosciences, environmental sciences, nursing and occupational therapy.
Community college system
The Maine Community College System has exploded in population, growing more than 80 percent in the last decade. After big increases in enrollment, the system has hit physical limitations, turning away 4,000 applicants last year.
“This is really an extremely important bond for us because it gets at the heart of the problem. Having space is the first step,” Fitzsimmons said.
If the bond passes, the system can accommodate an additional 2,400 students each year, or 4,800 more students in all. Last year, the system enrolled 18,561 students.
Like the UMaine System, the community college system also faces flat state funding and rising costs. Annual state funding has been a smaller percentage of the system’s budget as it has undergone rapid growth, Fitzsimmons noted: In 2000, state funding made up 52 percent of the system’s budget; today it is 29 percent.
Fitzsimmons said he is “pretty optimistic” the bond will pass. “People see the value of the community colleges,” he said.
The Maine Community College System bond, Question 5, would pay for the following projects:
n $2.35 million, Central Maine Community College, Auburn, to construct a building to house science laboratories, classrooms and associated offices for expanding and adding associate degree programs.
n $2.45 million, Eastern Maine Community College, Bangor, to construct an addition to Maine Hall and to expand academic classroom and laboratory space, including health sciences classrooms and laboratories and a criminal justice simulation laboratory.
n $2 million, Kennebec Valley Community College (Fairfield and Hinckley), to renovate laboratory space allowing the expansion of the precision machining program; to provide classroom space and associated offices to expand the electrical lineworker program; to renovate to accommodate the addition of a culinary arts program and the relocation of the early childhood program; to remove hazardous materials, restore entrances and exterior doors and improve environmental systems; and to purchase classroom equipment.
n $900,000, Northern Maine Community College, Presque Isle, to renovate Aroostook Hall to expand allied health programs; to add classrooms, laboratories and associated offices; to construct a new maintenance facility; and to purchase classroom equipment.
n $3.4 million, Southern Maine Community College, South Portland and Brunswick, to renovate and upgrade buildings to allow for the relocation and expansion of programs and to purchase classroom equipment to increase the enrollment capacity of the integrated manufacturing program on the Brunswick campus.
n $1 million, Washington County Community College, Calais, to renovate and increase the energy efficiency of the Harold Howland Building; to upgrade and improve existing systems and equipment and convert space for use by heavy equipment programs; and to purchase classroom equipment.
n $3.4 million, York County Community College, Wells, to construct a building to include classrooms, computer laboratories and associated offices and to purchase classroom equipment for the newly implemented precision machining program.
Maine Maritime Academy building
A third measure, Question 4, seeks $4.5 million for Maine Maritime Academy in Castine to help finance a new $14 million science building.
Academy President Bill Brennan said the school is currently using buildings built as far back as the 1860s.
“We haven’t had a new classroom in 30 years, but our population has doubled in that time,” Brennan said. “We’ve done a marvelous job of adapting over the years, but we’re beyond the ability to adapt. We’re well beyond capacity.”
The academy started a capital campaign several years ago to raise funds for the building, which will house classrooms, faculty offices and laboratories. The school has raised $7 million so far.
Maine Maritime enrolls about 900 students on its 35-acre campus in historic Castine. Brennan said the academy places more than 90 percent of its graduates in jobs within 90 days, many at six-figure salaries. The school specializes in hands-on training for marine-related industries, particularly in engineering.
With that focus, modern labs and equipment are “a critical need,” Brennan said.
“When this is built, two-thirds of the financing will have come from the private sector” for a state-owned building, Brennan said. “It’s a real value proposition for the voters.”
Noel K. Gallagher can be contacted at 791-6387 or at:[email protected]