A University of Maine board of trustees committee took a step Wednesday toward constructing the first-ever student housing on the Portland campus of the University of Southern Maine despite concerns about a lack of parking to accommodate an influx of students living on campus.

The proposed dorm is expected to house between 550 and 600 students and be built in conjunction with a new student center.

Its construction would also mean the elimination of 129 parking spots to make way for a new university quad, and some officials at Wednesday’s meeting of the board’s Finance, Facilities and Technology Committee raised concerns about whether a proposal to expand an existing parking lot to make up for the lost spaces would be enough.

Adding to the urgency for the project to be built is the fact the current Woodbury Campus Center was substantially damaged when fire main burst in September, forcing the re-location of the university store until the new center opens.

“I apologize on behalf of the university system for having allowed this project to proceed in this disjointed way,” system Chancellor Dan Malloy said. “The way this has played out since July I’m not sure we have too many options and that’s why I’m signing off on it because of the emergency situation we’re now confronted with.”

Sam Collins, a member of the board of trustees, also expressed concerns about parking.

“I’m not opposed to expanding (the Wishcamper parking lot), but we do need to address parking for the new student center and housing,” he said. “I’m a little confounded why we haven’t done that to date.”

Nancy Griffin, chief operating officer for USM, said in an interview after Wednesday’s meeting that the university is looking at parking and will be presenting the findings of a parking demand analysis to the board of trustees later this month.

“We are anticipating it will say we need X more spaces and we have identified in our master plan where those spots could go,” Griffin said.

She said options could include expanding the Wishcamper parking garage, as well as the parking lot, or adding spots behind the new career center, and that the university would be working with the city on any recommendations for additional spaces it decides to pursue.

Representatives of Brailsford & Dunleavy, a consulting firm that conducted an analysis of student housing demand for USM last year, said an increase in students living on campus doesn’t necessarily necessitate a need for more parking spots.

“It used to be we would assign one bed to one parking spot,” said Jeff Turner, executive vice president for the firm. “Nationally we’re finding (a need for) much less. Students who are living on campus are less inclined to have a car and are more inclined to use Uber or other transportation.”

On Wednesday the committee approved a recommendation for a $1.7 million expansion of the Wishcamper parking lot.  That would create 122 new parking spots using space that is currently grass or existing pavement and would largely offset the loss of the 129 spots on Bedford Street.

The committee also gave unanimous approval to a pre-development agreement with Capstone, the developers, for the $100 million project to include both the new dorm and a new student center on the Portland campus.

The student center, estimated to cost around $30 million, would be financed through a $19 million bond from the state, a $1 million gift and an additional $10 million to be raised by the university.

The dorm, estimated to cost between $65 million and $74 million, would be financed through a public-private partnership with Capstone, the details of which have yet to be negotiated.

Both items are scheduled to go before the system’s full board of trustees Jan. 27.

 

 

 


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