The Portland Planning Board approved a change of use application Tuesday night that will allow the University of Maine School of Law and related programs to move into an Old Port office building for five years until a new law school is built.

Board members found the law school’s application conformed with the city’s Land Use Code and voted 5-0 to approve the request, which means students and faculty can move into the building as soon as January.

The move from the law school’s existing building at 246 Deering Ave. to 300 Fore St. has proved uncontroversial. Only one person spoke at Tuesday’s virtual public hearing and city staff said they had received no written comments or objections. But board members did ask the university to provide more detail on how traffic and parking will be handled.

The city’s site plan ordinance did not require the university to provide an updated plan for managing traffic and parking, but a couple of board members said they wanted to make sure there is a plan to accommodate student and faculty transportation needs, such as providing shuttle service between the University of Southern Maine campus and the Old Port site.

Board member David Silk praised the plan to reuse the building, but pointed out that parking in the Old Port is at a premium.

“I’m concerned about that, but it is beyond our purview,” Silk said. “For this to be successful, I hope the university has a good plan to make this work for both staff and students.”


Leigh Saufley, dean of the law school, said many students ride bikes to class or already live in the Old Port, within walking distance of their new temporary home. Greater Portland METRO operates several bus routes close to the Old Port, an option for students who would rather not drive to class.

The relocation plan includes a move-in target date of Jan. 18, 2022 – Saufley said she had hoped to move in by September, but it wasn’t possible. The law school will enroll about 250 students and employ up to 70 faculty and staff and occupy about 75 percent of the building. The building will also house several university-related partners including Maine Center Ventures, the Graduate School of Business, and the Maine College of Engineering, Computing and Information Science.

Design work on the new law school on the USM campus has just begun, Saufley said. The UMaine System will lease the Old Port building for five years until the new school is complete.

The Fore Street building’s current occupant, the Council on International Educational Exchange, a nonprofit that helps students study abroad, will vacate in the coming weeks, Saufley said. CIEE has occupied the building since 2007, a year after it was built at the corner of Fore and Custom House streets.

The old law school building on Deering Avenue will be demolished as soon as all the students and staff have relocated, Saufley said. In 2017, Architectural Digest named it one of the eight ugliest university buildings in America.

The UMaine System Board of Trustees voted in May to authorize a lease agreement to move the law school. The lease was for a fixed rate of $15 per square foot, which works out to $957,000 annually. Cost estimates for any renovations needed for the Fore Street building are still being developed, but the system does have some funding, including a $1 million gift and $1.5 million in additional funds for law school operating costs allocated in Gov. Janet Mills’ supplemental budget.

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