June 23, 2018
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UMPI’s GPS-GIS lab may be running by fall

By Jen Lynds, BDN Staff

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — A sizable grant from the Maine Technology Institute will bolster the University of Maine at Presque Isle’s efforts to construct a Geographic Information Systems and Global Positioning System laboratory on campus.

The lab will be used for classroom instruction and for community training and services.

During a campus ceremony Thursday, UMPI and MTI officials announced the $96,800 Maine Technology Asset Fund grant from MTI.

In total, the project is a three-year, $329,360 effort. The remainder of the project is being paid through matching funds from UMPI.

MTI is a state-funded nonprofit corporation that offers capital and commercialization assistance for the research and development of technology-based projects, according to its Web site.

GIS is a computing system that captures, stores, analyzes and displays geographic information and spatial data about a given topic. GPS is a satellite-based navigation system that can be used to calculate a precise location anywhere in the world.

Chunzeng Wang, assistant professor of geoscience and GIS, is the grant project director. He said Thursday the facility would meet the growing need for GIS and GPS services in the region.

“We will purchase equipment to set up the lab,” Wang said. “It will be available for us to work on projects with communities. We would like to have it running by the fall.”

As part of the project, UMPI will collect geographic and nongeographic data around infrastructure, demographics, business and other areas for target communities. The university also will build and maintain a GIS database of information about northern Maine, and deliver database access and Web GIS services to those communities.

Other aspects of the project will entail providing GPS training to communities and partnering with communities on GIS projects.

Providing and maintaining that information will be a crucial economic development tool, according to Wang, as it will allow communities to take note of and market their assets, attract and retain businesses, manage infrastructure and other tasks.

“There is so much that we can do,” Wang said. “It goes on and on.”

Betsy Biemann, president of MTI, said Thursday that students using the lab would be exposed to “state-of-the-art training around this important technology.”

“The lab will allow students to gain training that really is desired by businesses today,” she said. “The students will gain cutting-edge instruction and the fruits of that labor will benefit communities, organizations and more.”

Both Wang and Biemann pointed out that the UMPI lab would help instruct local professionals on how to use the advanced technology. The facility also will be used for research and development.

College officials pegged Wang as a leader who has been instrumental in advancing UMPI’s GIS program. The university already has conducted GIS and GPS projects beneficial to the city of Presque Isle and several of its departments, the town of Fort Fairfield, the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians and others.

Students in the GIS program, for example, already have developed a storm water infrastructure database for Presque Isle. It included information on the city’s catch basins, culverts, curbs and sidewalks and helped to map the city’s pedestrian infrastructures downtown. Campus officials said the work helped the city to better maintain its storm water system and assisted the city in securing a $250,000 Community Development Block Grant to improve its downtown.

UMPI President Don Zillman said the money would help UMPI “establish this educational and training-oriented facility and meet the growing need for GIS and GPS services in our region.”

This summer, Wang and his students are working on two more GIS projects for the city of Presque Isle.

Construction of the lab, which Wang said would be on the second floor of Folsom Hall, is expected to begin in August.

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