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November 20, 2019

USM Portland campus student center, residence project 'transformative'

An overhead map showing the campus of the University of Southern Maine with one area, including a building and parking lot,highlighted in yellow. Image / Google Maps The highlighted area shows where a new student/career center, 550-bed residence hall and campus green will be built on the University of Southern Maine's Portland campus.

A new student center and student residence on the Portland campus of the University of Southern Maine will be "transformative" both in its construction and the school's focus.

Capstone Development Partners will be the builder on the largest building project in the University of Southern Maine's history, and the two buildings will be constructed with passive house techniques, using cross-laminated timber, the university announced Tuesday. The student residence will be the first on USM's Portland campus.

The school this fall enrolled a total of 6,675 undergraduate students, as well as 1,497 graduate students, spread among its Portland, Gorham and Lewiston campuses.

Birmingham, Ala.-based Capstone, which specializes in sustainable construction student housing, was named builder after a competitive RFP process. The company will partner with Portland-based SMRT Architects, which has designed passive house and other sustainable construction projects in Maine and elsewhere.

"This project will fundamentally transform our Portland campus and our university as a whole," said USM President Glenn Cummings in a news release. "When the project is completed we will have in place a sustainable, iconic academic campus in the economic and cultural of Maine's largest city, enhancing the student experience while creating a welcoming residential community."

The project will include a 60,000-square-foot student/career center, a 550-bed student residence, with a square footage to be determined, and a college green where the Woodbury Student Center is now, at 35 Bedford St.

Money from a $49 million bond to build and remodel University of Maine System facilities, approved by referendum last November, will pay for the career/student center. The residence hall will be funded through a private-public partnership, with Capstone Development Partners absorbing the cost of construction.

The cost estimate of the project won't be available until it goes through the University of Maine procurement process in the coming days, a USM spokesman said Wednesday morning.

While Capstone Development is an out-of-state company, Maine subcontractors will be used, the spokesman said.

'Great day for Maine's forest products industry'

The announcement coincides with Monday's announcement the university has moved closer to changing its name to the University of Maine at Portland in an effort to attract more out-of-state students.

The project will move USM forward in achieving its goal of becoming carbon-neutral by 2040, the release said.

Capstone's bid included the proposal that the residence hall be built as passive house, which is super-insulated and energy efficient construction that often requires no added heat or cooling systems. While Bowdoin College is building three small passive-house dorms, and there is also one on the Unity College campus, the USM project would likely be the largest passive house residence hall project in New England, the release said.

The career/student center will be built with cross-laminated timber, and will be one of, if not the largest, building in the state to do so. Cross-laminated lumber is lumber glued together and processed to form a product considered a good replacement for steel.

"This is truly a great day for Maine's forest products industry," said U.S. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, in the release. "I've long advocated for the use of cross-laminated timber as a great way to highlight the many benefits of this building material at the University of Southern Maine and other facilities.

"The use of CLT will open new doors for our state's forest products industry, allowing for continued innovation and economic growth.

"If we're going to succeed in the fight against climate change, we must invest in more sustainable materials — like CLT — that work to limit carbon emissions and effectively reduce the amount of carbon in the air," King said. "I commend USM for their commitment not only to the people and forests of Maine, but also by setting an example nationwide of environmentally conscious building practices."

Aerial view of University of Southern Maine in Portland
File photo courtesy / University of Southern Maine
The University of Southern Maine, whose main campus is in Portland, is planning to launch an undergraduate degree program in certified financial planning.

'Welcome news'

The outline of the plan was approved by the USM Board of Trustees two years ago, paving the way for the project. The plan called for reconfiguring parts of the Portland campus and adding student housing.

The Woodbury Student Center will be torn down to make room for the new buildings, and the University's Career and Employment Hub will anchor the new center, which will include dining services, lounges, meeting space and student organizational offices.

The residence hall will be next to the center. The square footage of the residence won't be determined until the configuration of rooms and other details are worked out, the spokesman said.

Renderings and more details are expected to released with a launch ceremony in December, USM said. 

"USM has a long record of helping future Maine leaders gain the skills they need to make a major impact on our state, and this new facility will give students and faculty new tools to enhance their efforts," King said.

Portland's mayor-elect, Kate Snyder, called the addition of undergraduate and graduate student housing on USM's Portland campus "welcome news."

"A great city is anchored by quality education institutions," she said in the release. "USM's increased enrollment and mission-driven improvements are great for Portland ."

She said that the project will also help to ease the city's affordable housing crunch. "As a Portland resident, and USM neighbor, I am eager to see the new residence hall in place, which will provide affordable Portland housing for students, and at the same time free up affordable housing for other Portland residents."

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