BANGOR, Maine — The living, learning and dining experience for students at Husson University will be markedly different this fall with the opening of the $11.5 million Living and Learning Center and the $7 million upgrade to the Dickerman Dining Center, university officials said during a tour of the facilities Friday.
The five-story, energy-efficient Living and Learning Center is the first of its kind on a college or university campus in Maine, said John Rubino, vice president of administration at Husson. The round dining hall has not been modified significantly since it was constructed in 1968.
“The first floor of the 66,000-square-foot Living and Learning Center will be devoted to learning,” he said. “The upper four floors will house nearly 250 students in two-bedroom suites with a bathroom and living area, which can accommodate up to four students each.”
The first floor of the building will have faculty offices, mock classrooms for Husson’s teacher education program, a classroom that can be set up as different kinds of crime scenes for students in the criminal justice program “to investigate” and an audio engineering classroom to be used by the New England School of Communications. Counseling students will be able to conduct and record mock sessions in small rooms on the first floor so their peers and professors can offer feedback.
“Experiential learning has become a major component to the curricula of Husson’s programs,” President Robert Clark said in November at a ceremonial beam signing for the new building. “This hands-on approach provides an opportunity for students to connect the theory learned in lectures to real-life practice, which alongside internship and clinical experiences, better prepares students for professional careers.”
The energy-efficient building will be eligible for a gold LEED — Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design — certification, he said. More than 96 percent of the building has a direct view of the outdoors and lets in natural light. Solar panels on the roof, low-flow plumbing fixtures, wastewater heat recovery units and other energy-saving features are expected to save the university more than $50,000 a year, according to Rubino.
The Living and Learning Center is being completed on time and on budget, Matt Cook, president of Allied Cook Construction in Scarborough, said Saturday. Cook said his firm worked on the project with Winton Scott Architects of Portland from the beginning.
“The use of the building was more unique than its construction,” Cook said. “It’s the first time we’ve done a building with both an academic use and residence use. That caused some challenges in controlling the noise and the access between the two different uses, but we were able to address those.”
The back of the new center faces the traditional dorms, some of which were built more than four decades ago. The grassy area between the buildings has created a natural outdoor courtyard where students can socialize, Rubino said.
The renovation of the dining hall posed more construction challenges than previous buildings on campus have, according to Karl Ward, president and chief operating officer of Nickerson & O’Day. The Brewer-based firm has built much of the Husson campus, including the Beardsley Meetinghouse and Gracie Theatre, the Campus Center, the Furman Student Center, NESCOM, the O’Donnell Commons and the Clara Swan Fitness Center.
“This project was our toughest at Husson,” he said. “After significant structural issues within the existing building were discovered and managed, the project was three months behind the original schedule,” Ward said Friday in an email. “While Husson acknowledged and accepted the delays, this past spring they asked us if we thought it was possible to accelerate and still finish in time for the arrival of students in August. At first, we didn’t think so, but because Husson had placed their faith in us so many times over the years, we said we’d try.”
With overtime and the dedication of workers and supervisors, five months of work was completed in two and the dining hall will be ready when students begin arriving next weekend, he said.
“We also agree with Husson’s wise decision to renovate, rather than build new,” Ward said. “Even though we found unexpected conditions within the original structure that caused substantial delay and additional cost, we estimate that Husson saved between $5 and $8 million in construction costs and between three and six months of construction duration compared to building a new dining hall — and in the end achieved the same result.”
The end result will be an entirely transformed dining experience for Husson students, staff and members of the community that use the facility, according to Michael San Antonio, the director of dining services at Husson for 25 years.
The reconfigured hall will include a feature that allows students to get a sandwich or salad and a beverage to go using their meal plans. It also will have a stone hearth pizza oven and pasta bar along with salad, soup and deli bars. Another station will let cooks prepare omelets and stir-fry. More homestyle “meat and potatoes” meals also will be available.
The hall, which now includes a skylight at its center that lets in more natural light, will seat 500 people and give the school the capability to serve between 300,000 and 400,000 meals a year, San Antonio said Friday.
“The food prep and cooking will be done in the open,” he said. “Students and guests will see how it is all prepared. There will be no more jokes about mystery meat.”
The new facility will need nine additional staff members to operate, according to San Antonio. He is looking for qualified culinary candidates to join his staff.
Matt Teague, who will be a senior at Husson this fall, said Saturday that Rubino and Clark sought input from students before going forward with the projects.
“Husson needed to make these changes if is to attract new students and continue the success it’s had the past few years,” Teague, who was student body president from 2010 to 2011, said.
He said the “grab and go” feature in the dining hall and the suite living arrangement in the new building came from students. The chemistry major also said the LEED certification is important to students.
“One of my things is environmentally friendly science,” he said. “If it cost the university less money for operating and energy costs, that could be passed on as a savings for students.”