USM plans to sell century-old Stone House to save money

Posted June 24, 2014, at 11:47 a.m.
The University of Southern Maine's Stone House, which is used for the MFA program, will likely be sold to save money.
Courtesy of USM
The University of Southern Maine's Stone House, which is used for the MFA program, will likely be sold to save money.

FREEPORT, Maine — The University of Southern Maine intends to sell the Stone House, a former residence built in 1917 that is used by the Master of Fine Arts in creative writing program, President Theodora Kalikow announced Monday in an email to faculty and staff.

“It no longer makes financial sense for USM to own the property, given the cost of maintenance, combined with the fact that it is used only 40 days a year,” Kalikow said in the letter.

It would cost the university $8.5 million for “required maintenance and infrastructure improvements” and $75,000 to $110,000 a year thereafter to maintain it, according to the letter.

Some faculty members dispute the estimated cost of improving the building.

Justin Tussing, director of the MFA program, said he has spoken to local developers who put the cost of rehabilitating the facility closer to $2.5 million.

The $8.5 million figure was developed by USM facilities management staff who “have construction, engineering and related areas of expertise,” according to Bob Caswell, USM’s executive director of public affairs.

”This was based primarily on upgrades to the heating, electrical and septic systems, upgrades to the house’s envelope (roof, windows) and ADA compliance issues,” he said in an email. “Once those upgrades were completed, we estimated annual maintenance costs at $75,000 to $110,000 per year.”

Tussing said the building, where students do a 10-day residency each semester, is integral to the university’s MFA in creative writing program.

“Closing the Stone House poses a direct threat to USM’s nationally ranked Stonecoast MFA,” he wrote in an email. “It is the program’s physical and metaphorical home, and our students are fiercely attached to it.”

But he allowed that since the building is only used for about one month a year, it is hard to justify keeping it.

“The building is underutilized,” he said. “There’s no doubt about that.”

Besides the MFA program, the Stonecoast Writers’ Conference and a summer program offered by the Kate Cheney Chappell ’83 Center for Book Arts also take place in the Stone House, bringing the total number of people using the building to about 250, according to Kalikow’s email.

None of the programs are in jeopardy, the email said. They will have to relocate after January 2015.

“Our goal is to transfer ownership to a nonprofit or private owner who can preserve the special characteristics of the coastal property,” Kalikow said in her email.

USM is in the process of cutting $14 million, or about 10 percent, from its fiscal year 2015 budget. Earlier this month, Kalikow announced that some of the savings would come from 16 voluntary faculty retirements and one staff layoff. The University of Maine System announced in April that $7 million would come from a rainy-day fund. Kalikow anticipates that next year, USM will be faced with cutting $12.5 million.

The Stone House was listed as “a good candidate for removal” in a report by an outside consultant that was presented to the University of Maine System’s trustees in February. The report stated that UMS has too large a physical footprint for the number of people it serves and included a list of buildings that see low use and are in poor condition.

USM will present a proposal to sell the building to the board of trustees’ finance, facilities and technology committee on Monday, June 30. The full board is expected to vote on the proposal at its meeting on July 21, Kalikow’s email said.

 

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