A 580-bed residence offering students affordable accommodation. A career and student center with sustainable features such as solar panels and cross-laminated timber. A grassy quad providing a natural gathering place. New arts and graduate centers.
These are some of the changes coming to the University of Southern Maine’s Portland campus, where major construction is currently underway on the $100 million dormitory and student center project.
Work on the Portland Commons residence hall – which will be the first residence hall on USM’s Portland campus – began this spring and is expected to be complete or substantially complete by June 2023. Also coming is a three-story of 42,000 square feet. & Student Success Center and a one-acre quad campus.
“Once completed, the three projects will transform USM’s Portland campus and the city’s skyline,” USM President Glenn Cummings said during a virtual grand opening last month.
The plans also come amid other changes that will affect life in the surrounding neighborhood, where some residents have expressed concerns about traffic and the university’s plans to demolish a house on Bedford Street. Last month, the University of Maine System Board of Trustees approved the move of the University of Maine School of Law from its current building at 246 Deering Ave. to a temporary rented house on Fore Street.
In addition, the city expects to have substantially completed the new Deering’s Corner roundabout at the intersection of Deering and Brighton Avenues and Falmouth Street – a project that is expected to help improve traffic operations and safety. – by the end of August, although some work may continue until November.
The new Portland Commons dormitory, approved by system administrators in February, is designed to use 50% less energy than a normal building built to code and is on track to become the second largest passive house building university in the United States, according to USM. Passive House is a strict green building standard that prioritizes energy reductions and high indoor air quality.
Funding for the $72.8 million residency will come from UMaine System Revenue Bonds, and revenue generated from the residency will fund annual debt service payments. The building is expected to alleviate overcrowding in dormitories on the university’s Gorham campus and provide a source of affordable housing for students in Portland’s tight housing market.
The $26.6 million Career & Student Success Center will be funded in part by a $19 million state bond approved by voters in 2019 and will be built in the same general area as the residence in the space formerly occupied by the Woodbury Campus Center and 25 Bedford. St. It will also provide space for the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion offices.
The dormitory and student center are both part of a master plan approved in 2019 that aims to create a new “heart of campus” around the quad and calls for further investment in facilities, including a new center for graduate studies for professional studies and a center for the arts. The university is in the planning stages for work on the arts center and expects to announce a major donation related to the project this week. Planning is also underway on the graduate center, which will build on funding from a $240 million gift made to the UMaine system last fall.
“I think the work we’re doing will transform the campus,” said Alec Porteous, COO and Chief Commercial Officer of USM. “Having residential accommodation on campus for the first time in its history is really going to change it dramatically and make it welcoming to our students, who are really struggling to find affordable housing. Putting 580 beds on campus is a real game-changer for us.
In a separate project, the university plans to demolish a house at 118 Bedford Street this summer, a move that has raised concerns among neighbors on Chamberlain Avenue, which runs parallel to Bedford. John Stevens, whose backyard borders 118 Bedford St., and neighbors Mike and Cheryl Eling, said they discovered the demolition plan weeks ago.
“It reminds us of things about, what are their plans for these houses?” said Mike Eling, 71, referring to several college-owned homes in the area.
Stevens said he would also like to get a better sense of the university’s long-term plans down the street after being told about the demolition at 118 Bedford. He said he asked university officials about it during a recent Zoom call in the neighborhood.
“I said, ‘It looks like your plan was just not to spend money fixing these houses, because it costs us money, but when it comes to a point where they’re falling apart , we can just tear them down,” said Stevens, 41. “My question was: are you going to do this with all these other houses?
The house at 118 Bedford St. is scheduled for demolition starting in July because it requires major structural repairs and lacks energy efficiency, Dan Hartill, a spokesman for USM, said in an email. Once the building is removed, the property will be open green space for the time being, he said.
It is one of several houses the university occupies on Bedford St. which also includes administrative offices, the student newspaper, and a student and community radio station, WMPG. In addition, the university also owns five houses on Chamberlain and a nearby sixth on Deering Avenue, all of which are rented through the nonprofit affordable housing provider Avesta Housing.
“The university is very sensitive to living conditions and meets regularly with residents,” Hartill said. He said the university is currently reviewing its options with the Bedford Street corridor and has no plans at this time to expand parking into the space where 118 Bedford now exists.
Mark LaPointe, president of the Woodfords-Oakdale Neighborhood Association, said the association sympathizes with Stevens and the Elings. He said residents had previously been concerned about a proposal to create additional parking near Falmouth Street, although the university has changed those plans and now expects to enter the planning process to expand. the existing parking lot in the parking lot of the Wishcamper Center.
“WITH MORE STUDENTS, THERE WILL BE MORE CARS”
LaPointe also expressed concerns about traffic in the wider area after the dormitory and student center were built.
“It’s going to increase the number of students and with more students there will be more cars,” LaPointe said. “It’s always a problem. You like having a residential neighborhood with people walking and kids playing, but all of those things are going to increase the number of cars in the neighborhood. »
USM expects most of the traffic impact from the student center and dormitory to remain focused on Bedford Street and has worked with a traffic consultant throughout the planning, permitting and of construction.
An analysis by consultant, VHB, suggested that in the short term traffic will decrease because dormitory residents will compensate for what would have been commuters and trips will shift mainly from peak-hour to off-peak trips. Traffic for the Career & Student Success Center, meanwhile, should be comparable to that of the former student center.
As part of its traffic mitigation efforts, USM has set targets to reduce the number of trips generated by the university during the local rush hour by 3-6% by 2025, and to reduce parking demand by 10-14% during rush hour. demand on campus. The targets are part of a transportation demand management plan, whose goals include reducing overall travel, parking demand and greenhouse gas emissions.
On Chamberlain Avenue, residents said that despite their concerns about the demolition and the future of university-owned homes, they see benefits for the dormitory and student center project.
“(I) have the usual hassles that go along with it: traffic, noise late at night,” Stevens said. “We were in college in dorms and I remember how it was. I think there is that, but at the same time they make school more enjoyable and what they do is make it better, so that side of it is great.
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