University of Southern Maine officials hope to sell seven of the residential “white houses” at the edge of the Portland campus and move staff and faculty members onto campus to cut costs.

“We have too big of a footprint for a university this size,” USM spokesman Chris Quint said.

The buildings are used as offices for some faculty and staff, including the marketing and human resources department. One property houses the economics department, with offices for two faculty members, an administrative assistant and visiting faculty.

Those employees will be moved into vacant space on the Portland campus by this fall, Quint said.

“A lot of those white houses on Chamberlain are secluded over there in silos. We want to bring people back on campus and make people feel like they are part of the campus, not stuck off where no one knows where they are,” he said.

The move comes as USM grapples with ongoing financial problems. Last fall, President David Flanagan closed a projected budget gap of $16 million, in part by eliminating 50 faculty positions, closing two academic programs and promising to make numerous cost-cutting changes at USM.

For years, as USM went through waves of layoffs and deep budget cuts, people questioned the financial wisdom of maintaining so many small buildings, each with only a handful of people, that all need heat and maintenance.

Five of the properties are in a row at 1, 7, 11, 15 and 19 Chamberlain Ave. The other properties, also former single-family homes in the same neighborhood, are at 209 Deering Ave. and 11 Granite St.

Campuses across the University of Maine System are proposing to sell property as part of an effort to reduce the system’s footprint. The sale of USM’s houses and several other properties at other campuses will be reviewed Monday by the finance committee of the system’s board of trustees. The full board must approve any sale.

USM economics professor Susan Feiner criticized the move.

“I think it’s very short-sighted,” said Feiner, whose office is not affected by the proposed sale.

“While USM may be consolidating and so forth right now, they need to keep their options open for the future, which may include new programs,” she said Friday. “If they sell, they’ve lost that space forever.”

USM has lost student, staff, faculty and administrators in recent years. Enrollment has dropped 13 percent in the last five years, and the number of employees has dropped 18.5 percent.

“There’s plenty of space on campus,” Quint said of moving people into offices in existing buildings.

The university estimates it will sell the properties for between $1.2 million and $1.4 million, based on a report recently prepared by Planning Decisions of Hallowell. The university would save about $300,000 annually in lower overhead costs, officials said in a report to the finance committee.

However, those figures could change since the properties have not been appraised, officials said.

The sale would move the properties back onto Portland’s tax base. They were exempt as university property.

OTHER HOMES COULD BE SOLD LATER

The homes are likely to be sold individually as residences, since the interiors were not drastically altered for office use.

“I certainly understand that USM has to do what they need to do,” said City Councilor Ed Suslovic, who represents nearby District 2. “But the neighbors have said they like having USM own them. The concern as we move to the future is whoever buys those houses, hopefully they will buy them as owner-occupied single-family homes.”

USM owns other residential homes in the neighborhood, including a row of homes on Bedford Street facing the campus, and a row of seven homes on Exeter Street behind the University of Maine School of Law.

Those homes may be sold later, Quint said.

“We looked at the ones on Bedford and maybe down the road that happens,” he said. “But for now, that’s not part of the plan. We don’t want to sell off everything until there’s a comprehensive (systemwide) facilities plan.”

The finance committee also will consider proposed property sales from other campuses. The University of Maine in Orono suggested the sale of about 30 acres of undeveloped land, with road frontage on Stillwater Avenue, and Machias suggested the sale of Kimball Hall, which houses faculty offices and a small dining area. Also suggested for sale is the system headquarters at 16 Central St. in Bangor, with system administrative staff relocated to various campuses.