The University of New England is embarking on a five-year plan to improve the Stevens Avenue campus. The plan is highlighted by the construction of a new medical school, but also includes a new facilities building and athletics building off Bishop Street, the conversion of the Finley gymnasium into an academic building, a new academic building by the art gallery and the potential for a residence hall on Gulliver’s Field. Michael Kelley / The Forecaster

PORTLAND — With a $30 million donation in hand from the Harold Alfond Foundation, officials at the University of New England are beginning to consolidate its graduate health programs onto one campus.

Director of Campus Planning Eric Mora said moving its College of Osteopathic Medicine – the only medical school in Maine – from Biddeford into a new 110,000-square-foot building to be constructed behind Innovation Hall in the former Maine Army National Guard Armory is a top priority in its five year plan.  The plan also includes a new facilities building and athletics building off Bishop Street, the conversion of the Finley gymnasium into an academic building and a former church at 812 Stevens Avenue into office space, constructing a new academic building by the art gallery and a potential residence hall on Gulliver’s Field.

The University of New England is working on a plan that would add more academic buildings and other facilities to its campus between Morrill’s Corner and Deering Center in Portland. Courtesy / University of New England.

Alan Thibeault, vice president for university operation, said moving the medical school to the Portland campus – already home to UNE’s College of Dental Medicine, the College of Pharmacy and the Westbrook College of Health Professions – has been a long time coming for the university.

“Health care is multifaceted and traditionally everyone has learned in their own silo and there hasn’t been learning together or even what the other programs be able to bring to the others,” Thibeault said. “We realize that and have been working on a plan where all of our health programs can work together.”

Residents from the Deering Center neighborhood hope to be a part of the discussion as the move of the medical school and development of other parts of the campus happen.

“We have heard both optimism and some concerns regarding UNE’s medical program moving to the Stevens Avenue Portland campus,” said John Thibodeau, president of the Deering Center Neighborhood Association. “With UNE as a neighbor, our hope is to work and collaborate with UNE on this project, which presumably will impact the neighborhood.”

The neighborhood association is scheduled to hold a neighborhood meeting about the UNE plans sometime this month.

“The idea of being proactive and getting information out there is important, but that is only half the story,” said Denis Lachman, a member of the neighborhood association board. “The other half of the story is us rolling up our sleeves (and working with UNE officials), not just reacting to information they present to us.”

Mora said there will be plenty of opportunities for collaboration with the neighborhood, as the proposed building still needs to be designed and go through the Planning Board.

The biggest hurdle, Mora said, is fundraising the remaining $40 million necessary for the $70 project that also includes the establishment of the Institute for Interprofessional Education and Practice in Portland and expansion of graduate and undergraduate offerings in aquaculture, entrepreneurship, criminal justice and sports media communication in Biddeford.

“We have a long way to go and the funding is the biggest thing we are facing,” Mora said.

The university wants to start the Planning Board review process by the middle of next year, break ground in 2022 and have the new facility open for the 2023-2024 school year. It is expected to bring 400 additional students to the Portland campus.

Councilor Justin Costa, whose district represents the Deering Center neighborhood, said he has not heard any specific concerns raised by the project, but “if history is an indicator, there is going to be an intense discussion about the parking and traffic issues that this brings to Stevens Avenue.”

“We are not there yet, but I expect that to happen once plans get more developed,” he said.

Mora said a traffic demand study that looks at traffic patterns now and what it could look like when the new medical school is built will be part of the Planning Board review process.

“We know traffic and parking is going to be an issue,” he said.

Thibeault said a plan to improve an internal connector road that runs from the heart of campus and a large parking lot off Bishop Street may reduce the number of students traveling through Morrill’s Corner or using Stevens Avenue for parking.

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