A substantial financial gift from the Harold Alfond Foundation will see the University of New England’s College of Osteopathic Medicine move to the Portland campus, and the development of new  programs at the Biddeford campus, UNE officials announced Friday. Brianna Soukup Photo/Portland Press Herald

BIDDEFORD — A $30 million gift to the University of New England from the Harold Alfond Foundation will support relocation of the College of Osteopathic Medicine to the Portland campus. The move will allow the Biddeford campus to grow by bringing in new programs and expanding existing ones, said UNE president James Herbert.

With an estimated cost of $70 million, the project will require UNE to raise additional funds through private and public sources, officials said.

The university hopes to break ground on the new 110,000-square-foot Portland campus building in the spring of 2022 and looks to the fall of 2023 as a targeted completion date.

At a Tuesday news conference, Herbert said the Biddeford campus will focus on natural and social sciences, business and other programs that will ready students for the workforce, while the relocation of the College of Osteopathic Medicine will integrate all the university’s medical programs on the Portland campus.

The University of New England is one of eight Maine educational institutions to benefit from a $500 million investment made by the Alfond Foundation to confront the state’s long-term economic challenges.

“The Harold Alfond Foundation has been a longtime supporter of the University of New England, and we are pleased to be able to invest again in this great university,” said Greg Powell, chairman of the Harold Alfond Foundation. Powell noted that Harold Alfond made many gifts to education, “none prouder than a 1995 gift to UNE.” Powell said at the time, Alfond felt the university would grow into its name, and noted the university’s growth since that time has been extraordinary.

“We believe that two fundamental components of a bright future for Maine are a high-quality education and a healthy population, and UNE is a significant contributor toward both of these goals,” said Powell. With this grant, UNE is poised to take its contributions to the state to new heights and will be instrumental in Maine’s future success.”

The expansion and development of undergraduate and graduate programs on the Biddeford campus like programs in marine sciences and aquaculture, along with programs in business, entrepreneurship, criminal justice, and sports media communication, will meet student demand and workforce needs, said Herbert.

“By being able to relocate the College of Osteopathic Medicine to the Portland campus, we will be able to expand our undergraduate and graduate programming in several market-aligned fields of study as well as grow many of our current programs by taking advantage of the availability of additional labs, classrooms, and other spaces vacated by the medical school,” said Herbert.

Biddeford Mayor Alan Casavant said Herbert recently told him of the plan.

“I was surprised, but his explanation is really logical from their perspective,” Casavant said. “All of their health science programs are in Portland, and having all on one campus makes it easier and more efficient. The current medical building needs an upgrade, as it is old by today’s standards, and there is no more room for much on the Biddeford campus, as available land is mostly wetlands and ledge. They are bursting at the seams, with professors, in some cases, sharing offices, with two others.”

“President Herbert loves Biddeford, and he was clear, that the intention is not to abandon the campus here,” Casavant continued. “(The plan) allows them to add programs, such as a business program, and they will gain undergrad students, offsetting any loss of medical students. The neuroscience students will stay here, as the labs are all here.”

The Alfond Foundation has said it aims to combat a shrinking workforce and usher in new opportunities for the state and its people by supporting the acceleration of education, training, and job opportunities.

Herbert said the new College of Osteopathic Medicine will have specially-designed learning spaces and advanced technology, enhancing the quality of education, and that the increased capacity will allow the university to grow the size of the medical school.

“Our health professions students will capitalize on opportunities for cross-professional learning, will enhance their team-based competencies, and will benefit from learning spaces in the new facility designed for simulation, standardized patients, and digital health and telemedicine, all of which will complement UNE’s existing assets,” Herbert said.

Herbert said the gift from the Alfond Foundation is timely, considering that the COVID-19 pandemic has made clearer than ever the critical role health care workers play in our lives.

“This generous gift will allow UNE not only to increase the number of doctors and other health care professionals we train, but also to better serve the state and region by training students to work across disciplines in integrated teams, providing improved outcomes for their patients,” he said.

He said the grant also addresses the economic implications of COVID-19, which have exacerbated some of Maine’s long-standing challenges to economic prosperity.

“The gift will allow us to grow undergraduate and graduate programs on the Biddeford Campus that are linked to key workforce needs,” he said. “Through this investment, the Harold Alfond Foundation has demonstrated its continued passionate commitment to the welfare of Mainers. We are excited to begin work on this project, which will be transformative for both the university and the state.”

“UNE’s expertise … will all help Mainers access the care they deserve,” said U.S Congresswoman Chellie Pingree in a prerecorded virtual message.

Sen. Susan Collins called the $500 million gift to the eight educational institutions transformational.

“I applaud the Alfond Foundation for this exciting investment in Maine’s institutions of higher education, our young people, and our state’s future,” she said in a statement.

Casavant said he and others are sad to see the medical school go, noting a certain prestige to having Maine’s only medical school in the city, but he understands the rationale.

“It makes sense for them,” said Casavant. “Plus, they will be reinvesting here with new programs, a renovated building, and more students. UNE remains a great partner for the city of Biddeford.”

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