WESTBROOK, Maine — Bangor-based Husson University unveiled its new Westbrook campus Tuesday afternoon, calling the facility a fresh sign of its commitment to the southern Maine market.
For nearly 15 years, Husson leased about 10,000 square feet at a lower-profile location in a plaza near the Maine Mall in nearby South Portland.
The new 340 County Road spot increases the school’s space to more than 17,000 square feet and gives it a significant visibility boost, with sweeping road frontage on a busy intersection not far from the Portland border.
During a ceremonial ribbon-cutting event Tuesday, Husson President and CEO Robert Clark said the new campus, which began holding its first classes as part of a soft opening two weeks ago, will have the capacity to accommodate 500 students.
Husson’s main campus in Bangor has more than 2,600 students.
“You see that our commitment to this region is more than just a verbal commitment, but an investment,” Clark said of the approximately $6 million Westbrook project.
“For many years, we have had a presence in Maine,” said Carol Kanar, chairwoman of the Husson board of trustees. “This facility is a long time coming … and fulfillment of the trustees’ vision to have an even stronger presence in southern Maine.”
Husson officials have been on the lookout for a larger, more visible location in the southern part of the state for a number of years. Previous plans — including one in late 2011 to build on a 7-acre parcel on outer Congress Street in Portland — ultimately fizzled, however.
“We did look at other facilities before settling on this one,” Clark told the Bangor Daily News on Tuesday, saying the university liked the County Road building, in part, because it represented an opportunity to own, not just lease.
Clark said significant renovation work at the Westbrook facility, done by Allied Cook Construction, began last summer. Previous tenants at the location included health care and printing companies, he said.
Westbrook Mayor Colleen Hilton said Tuesday the new campus will help her city stand out.
“I think this campus is another reason to say ‘Greater Westbrook,’” she said, comparing it to the oft-used “Greater Portland” term. “We’re really at the center of Portland, Scarborough, Gorham — there are a lot of businesses and communities to draw from here. We’re really pleased students will be able to attend school in Westbrook from kindergarten right up through their doctorate.”
With its new location, the 106-year-old Husson joins the growing list of postsecondary schools in Maine branching out with second campuses. Nearby University of Southern Maine has distinct campuses in Portland and Gorham, while University of New England operates a Portland campus in addition to its main location in Biddeford.
Southern Maine Community College, which has long occupied a waterfront campus in South Portland, opened a second campus in Brunswick after Brunswick Naval Air Station closed in 2011.
Husson’s 3-acre Westbrook site has 15 classrooms, where it boasts in-person and videoconference classes toward undergraduate and graduate degrees in 20 “professional-oriented programs.”
The university has offerings in business administration, nursing, criminal justice, elementary education, paralegal studies, software development and other programs.