EDITORIALS

Yes on Question 2: Why $15.5 million in renovations at Maine’s universities is a smart investment

University of Maine third-year PhD candidate Chris Bennett walks around with a virtual reality headset at the Virtual Environment and Multimodal Interaction Laboratory at the Orono campus in February. Students have been working on virtual reality programs to help the visually impaired, firefighters in smoke-filled rooms,  and others &quotsee" buildings through augmented reality.
University of Maine third-year PhD candidate Chris Bennett walks around with a virtual reality headset at the Virtual Environment and Multimodal Interaction Laboratory at the Orono campus in February. Students have been working on virtual reality programs to help the visually impaired, firefighters in smoke-filled rooms, and others "see" buildings through augmented reality.
Posted Oct. 30, 2013, at 10:20 a.m.

Question 2: Do you favor a $15,500,000 bond issue to enhance educational and employment opportunities for Maine citizens and students by updating and improving existing laboratory and classroom facilities of the University of Maine System statewide?

On Nov. 5, voters will decide on a $15.5 million bond that would provide the university system with the funds needed for targeted renovations of laboratory and classroom space in need of major upgrades. We recommend a “yes” vote.

The $15.5 million in renovations would transform classroom and laboratory spaces used by students enrolled in in-demand majors that produce graduates who can transition to well-paying jobs available in Maine.

The package, for example, would cover renovations needed to modernize outdated nursing program spaces — in some cases, they weren’t even outfitted for nursing education — at the University of Maine at Augusta and the University of Maine at Fort Kent, which would receive $1.2 million each. The universities’ nursing programs are growing, and they’re responding to a demonstrated need. Registered nurses top Maine’s list of high-wage occupations expected to be in great demand over the coming decade.

The university system plans $5.5 million in renovations on the campus of the University of Maine. The university has seen an increase in the number of students pursuing degrees in the all-important STEM fields — science, technology, engineering and math — in recent years, a promising development. The renovation of 10,000 square feet of laboratory and classroom space would update those facilities and help the University of Maine better compete for students who might be lured to other popular engineering schools.

The renovations planned for the university system’s other campuses are similarly targeted to programs important to Maine’s economy and to the university system’s brand — the marine sciences at the University of Maine at Machias, for example.

Of course, as the University of Maine System contemplates major facility improvements, we can’t lose sight of the transformation well underway in higher education. Place has become less important, and students can do much of their learning online. Still, there’s no substitute for high-quality lab spaces for hands-on learning that hones fundamental skills employers are seeking in their hires: strong communication and collaboration skills.

The university system’s leadership is well aware of this transformation. “We have an infrastructure that worked well for the 20th century,” said Chancellor James Page. “It’s a proper question whether we’re properly sized for the 21st century.”

With that, the university system is undertaking a strategic facilities review that can help Maine’s universities identify the facilities they need long-term and those they don’t.

In the meantime, the university system requires investment in the facilities it has that support growing fields that are key to the future of the university system and to Maine’s economy.

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