WESTBROOK — On the second floor of a retail plaza near the Maine Mall, Husson University’s South Portland campus didn’t exactly stand out.
“I’ve used the term invisible,” said Executive Director Charlie Collins.
That doesn’t appear to be a problem at the university’s new home, two miles away. A sign with an electronic message board announcing Husson’s southern Maine campus now stands alone at the corner of Spring Street and County Road in Westbrook.
The school’s more visible location has already drawn walk-ins who want to check it out, Collins said. Near the borders of Gorham, Portland, South Portland and Scarborough, the new campus also is convenient to Husson’s busy students, most of whom work during the day and take classes at night and on weekends.
The Bangor-based university started holding classes at its new southern Maine campus on Jan. 21, after moving out of its 11,000-square-foot leased space in South Portland in December. It will celebrate the move with a grand opening Tuesday.
Westbrook Mayor Colleen Hilton, who will speak at the ceremony, said the city is “thrilled” to welcome Husson and offer residents a chance to complete their education in their own community.
“Having the first university in our community just adds to the sense of pride in the many good things that are happening in Westbrook,” she said.
Husson bought the 34,000-square-foot building and renovated half of it, previously occupied by United Healthcare, into a campus with 15 classrooms, a computer lab, offices and a student lounge. The total investment was $6 million.
The property is the first that Husson has owned in southern Maine, where it has had a presence for more than 30 years, Collins said.
Two other tenants in the building, SymQuest Group and the engineering firm HNTB Corp., will remain there until Husson decides to expand.
“They built it with growth in mind,” Collins said.
He said spring enrollment is around 215 students, about the same as at this time last year.
Along with the move, the southern Maine branch is introducing seven-week accelerated courses and two new degree programs, in hospitality management and software development. A third new program, sports management, is expected to start in the fall.
Husson’s course options for students in southern Maine are expanded through the use of technology. Two classrooms are equipped with videos and monitors so students in Westbrook can participate in classes in Bangor and Presque Isle, where there’s another university branch, and vice versa.
More than 3,000 undergraduate and graduate students attend school at the Bangor campus, according to Husson’s website.
The southern Maine campus offers 15 undergraduate and eight graduate degrees in professional fields, Collins said.
The new campus’s proximity to some of the state’s largest employers, like Idexx Laboratories and Unum, is another advantage, he said.
Hilton said, “We anticipate working with Husson and our local business community to make sure that workforce development programs are providing adult learners with the skills they need to serve our area businesses and support their growth.”
For students, however, the main thing is the feel.
“It’s beautiful,” said Kim Hjort, 30, of Scarborough, who started pursuing a bachelor’s degree in accounting at Husson five years ago. “This is definitely more campus-like.”
Leslie Bridgers can be contacted at 791-6364 or at: