A proposal for the first-ever student housing on the Portland campus of the University of Southern Maine calls for 379 units for upperclassmen and graduate students along with a new student center and green space.

Details of the project, which has been awarded to Alabama-based Capstone Development Partners, are contained in a proposal from the company released by the university Wednesday.

The estimated combined cost of the new student center and residential building is around $100 million, though that has yet to be finalized, said University of Southern Maine Chief Operating Officer Nancy Griffin.

“This is going to be transformational for the campus,” Griffin said. “Right now we have graduate students who struggle to find affordable housing. This will allow them to have affordable housing in Portland.”

This aerial view shows the proposed new student center, just left of center, and the proposed new residence hall, right of center, at the University of Southern Maine in Portland. Rendering by Elkus Manfredi Architects

The proposal still needs approval from the University of Maine system board of trustees, likely to happen in January, and will need to be permitted by the city.

If everything goes according to plan, the developer will break ground this spring and complete the project by the fall of 2022.

The proposal from Capstone calls for roughly 577 beds of student housing spread across 379 units in two interlocking buildings of five to eight stories each.

The residential buildings would connect with the new student center to form an L-shape. The project would replace the current bookstore and student center, a facilities management building and a parking lot that currently occupy the corner of Durham and Bedford Streets.

The Wishcamper Center parking lot will be expanded and other parking spots added throughout the campus so there will be no net loss of parking spots, Griffin said.

The residential buildings would provide the first student housing on the university’s Portland campus and would help meet demand for affordable living spaces.

This is the proposed student center as seen from the quad. Rendering by Elkus Manfredi Architects

While the university has campuses in Gorham, Portland and Lewiston, the Gorham campus is the only one with student housing, and it is over capacity.

A market study completed by a Boston development advisory company on behalf of the university in August found Portland’s housing market is tight and rental rates – which average $1,296 per month per unit without utilities – are too expensive for students to afford.

Sixty-three percent of USM students who live off campus currently live outside of Portland and have on average a 28-minute commute, the study found.

It also surveyed students on their preferred on-campus housing options, with 40 percent saying their preference was for a single bedroom in a two- or four-bedroom apartment.

The proposal from Capstone calls for a mix of single occupancy rooms with en-suite bathrooms; studio apartments and two-bedroom two-bathroom apartments that would be open to upperclassmen, graduate and law students.

It also suggests adding some “efficiency co-living apartments,” where a student could have a private bedroom, bathroom and sitting area but share a kitchen, dining room and washer and dryer with others.

Griffin said another market analysis will be conducted before rental rates are determined.

Capstone, in its proposal, said sustainable and energy-efficient components, such as solar panels, if feasible, and the incorporation of passive house design principles will help improve affordability.

The company was among a handful of developers to submit proposals for the student center and residence hall project.

Griffin said Wednesday the alternate proposals would not be released publicly until after contract negotiations are complete, citing a portion of state law that keeps property or economic development plans from being disclosed if the release of the information would hurt competitive bargaining.

 

 

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