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April 7, 2022

Maine Law starts $13.5M renovation on its new home in Old Port

File photos The University of Maine System is preparing to move its law school, business school and other programs from 246 Deering Ave., Portland, at left, to a temporary site in the Old Port District.

The University of Maine School of Law has started its $13.5 million renovation on its new location in Portland, and the school may end up buying the property because of its proximity to courthouses, law firms and downtown businesses.

The law school has a five-year lease at 300 Fore St. in Portland, with an option to renew for another five years. It also has an option to buy the building, and hopes to pursue that path.

“It could very well be the permanent home of the law school,” Leigh Saufley, dean of the University of Maine Law School, told Mainebiz. “We want to be in this space.”

“The placement of commerce, lawyers and the ocean businesses makes it a dynamic location. It’s two blocks aways from the state and federal courthouses. It’s a quick walk away to both courthouses, the law firms, the blue economy, and the businesses that our students will be interacting with."

The building will also house the UMaine Graduate School of Business and the UMaine Graduate and Professional Center.

Although renovations have already begun, the official groundbreaking will be in May. Consigli Construction in Portland is the contractor. The 63,841-square-foot office building was formerly occupied by the Council on International Educational Exchange.

When the initial plans were approved last September, the estimated price tag on renovations was $6 million for the temporary site. A permanent home was planned on the University of Southern Maine’s Portland campus.

Now, further investments are needed for the technology upgrades and renovations in the Fore Street space that could end up being be the permanent home.

“We have known about the costs for quite some time. This is a substantial and wonderful project. We had hoped at various times that it would be less than $13.5 million, but with supply chain issues on materials and supplies and technology issues, it became clear that would be the cost. Time and money are the two major investments,” Saufley said. 

“It’s an intricate project over six floors,” Saufley said. “It’s not just the location, but the modern capacity for technology that it will have will open up law school for students in Machias or Fort Kent. Distance learning will be happening as we connect with other campuses throughout the state and perhaps elsewhere. We’re very much hoping to bring law school to many more students.” 

She said she expects to have the building available to students and faculty by November or December. The law school has been located at 246 Deering Ave. in Portland, in a building with the dubious distinction of being a named by Architectural Digest as one of the ugliest university buildings in America. 

The new building will boast a bigger law school class as the school actually saw an increase in enrollment amid the pandemic despite undergraduate programs nationally seeing a decline in student populations.

Saufley said she expects the law school to have 90 to 100 students next year, up from 72 this spring. 

“People are really interested in attaining a law degree and getting a good, energetic understanding of how to interpret and understand the law,” Saufley said. “Privacy law and cybersecurity law are very attractive right now not just to law students, but business and engineering students, as well.”

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