The University of Southern Maine has picked a project developer and is expecting to break ground this spring on a new student and career center, and a 550-bed residence hall on its Portland campus.

The project is expected to be the largest building project in USM’s history and is targeted for completion by the fall of 2022, the university said in a news release.

“This project will fundamentally transform our Portland campus and our university as a whole,” university President Glenn Cummings said in the release.

“When the project is completed we will have in place a sustainable, iconic academic campus in the economic and cultural heart of Maine’s largest city, enhancing the student experience while creating a welcoming residential community.”

The plans consist of a career and student center that would house dining services, lounges, meeting space and student organization offices; a residence hall and a campus green fronting both the center and the new dorm.

The contract for the project has been awarded to Alabama-based Capstone Development Partners, which specializes in student housing around the country and will be partnering with SMRT Architects in Portland.

A total cost for the project is still being negotiated, though university officials last January estimated more than $100 million for a master plan that also included some upgrades at the Gorham campus.

After the plan was announced, the system board of trustees approved in 2017 an $80 million capital campaign to help pay for some of the proposals.

Ainsley Wallace, president of the USM Foundation, said Tuesday that the priorities of the campaign were re-adjusted after voters approved a $25 million bond last year to help finance the new career and student center.

Philanthropy will still play a part in helping finance the USM master plan and Wallace said progress on the Portland campus could help accelerate fundraising. The capital campaign has yet to launch publicly.

“We see this announcement as an incredible launching pad for our philanthropic efforts,” Wallace said. “Hopefully it is seen as a signal to friends and alums interested in what’s happening at USM and considering how they can be involved.”

The residence hall, which will provide the university’s first housing at its Portland campus, will be located adjacent to the career and student center and will be funded through a private-public partnership with Capstone, the release said.

Capstone’s bid on the project includes a proposal that the building be constructed as a “passive house,” an international standard for energy efficiency based on energy usage and air tightness.

The proposal also calls for the career and student center to be built with cross-laminated timber, which has been touted for having a low environmental impact.

Plans for the new construction at the Portland campus are part of a sweeping master plan approved by the system board of trustees in January. The university, which enrolls around 8,400 students, has three campuses in Gorham, Portland and Lewiston.

Efforts are underway to re-brand the university and capitalize on its Portland location as an attractive place for students. On Monday, the board approved changing the university’s name to the University of Maine at Portland, a proposal that now heads to the Maine Legislature for final approval.

University officials Monday also stressed the need for more on-campus student housing and cited a shortage of housing as one reason for a drop in enrollment among new out-of-state freshmen, despite an increase in out-of-state applications last year.

 

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