A typical day in the life of a student at the University of Southern Maine is changing with the launch of a new residential hall and student center.

USM has opened the doors of the Portland Commons, a $74 million project to create the university’s first housing option in Portland. It will house 577 students who are set to move in next week.

Across the way, USM has also opened a parking garage and the McGoldrick Center for Career & Student Success, including a dining hall, career center and student lounges. The three buildings all border a grassy quad called the Bean Green (named after its benefactor – L.L. Bean).

A view of construction of the new student center and dorms at the Portland campus of University of Southern Maine, from President Jacqueline Edmondson’s, president of the University of Southern Maine, office on September 20, 2022 after the school announced a $46 million fundraising campaign. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographe

Completing the buildings marks the end of ‘Phase I’ in USM’s campus buildout. It also marks the start of a new chapter in USM’s history – creating a “campus heart” in Portland.

“I feel like we now have a full blown campus, a campus that will foster community,” said Aaron Witham, USM’s director of sustainability. It will make the campus just so much more convenient, more vibrant.”

USM first announced the campus buildout in its 2019 Facilities Master Plan. Over $124 million later, students have a place where they can eat, sleep, seek out career and academic advice, park their bikes, charge their electric vehicles and play frisbee.


The buildings, especially the Portland Commons, are in part intended to make life more convenient for students. Up until this semester, USM has only offered a dorm option in Gorham.

The buildout also brings the vision of USM’s master plan to life: building what school officials called Portland’s first “campus heart” that can be a home base for residential and commuting students.

“It used to be a ghost town on the weekends,” said Witham. “It now feeds into that sense of community and having people around all the time.”

USM has also envisioned creating this hub in sustainable, environmentally friendly fashion. Witham said the buildings have been built “with a really aggressive green building standard” that requires energy reductions, nearby sustainable transportation, high indoor air quality and water efficiency.

Once all of the certifications are secured, Witham said, the Portland Commons will be the second largest passive house building at an American university and one of the largest such buildings in the U.S.

“When we’re in the design phase, we’re not just thinking about what it looks like, or how it’s going to function. We’re thinking about how is this building better for the environment than a normal building? How can we make it a model for environmental stewardship?” Witham said.

Next up in the master plan is ‘Phase II,’ to build a professional center for graduate students and a center for the arts, which Witham said recently broke ground.

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