ORONO, Maine — The University of Maine System’s seven campuses have too much floor space and many of their buildings still are in dire need of renovation, but the system appears to be making some steps to correct its size problems, consultants told trustees.
The system’s board met Sunday for the first day of a two-day regular meeting at the University of Maine in Orono. Jim Kadamus and Caroline Johnson of Sightlines, a Connecticut-based consultant firm, spoke to trustees via phone conference because Sunday’s storm prevented them from traveling to Maine.
Sightlines released a report last year that found the system’s facilities as a whole are underutilized and many were in serious need of repairs and updates. Those daunting problems still exist, but Sightlines’ annual review found that some early steps the system has taken to counter its issues are showing signs of stemming what had been a growing trend.
UMS “density,” or the number of “users” — students, professors, staff, etc. — per 100,000 square feet, reached its peak in fiscal year 2007, when there were 343 users per 100,000 square feet. That density has fallen steadily ever since, to about 290 users in fiscal year 2014. Comparable university systems are in the 400 users per 100,000 square feet range, according to Sightlines.
The two best ways for the system to fix its size issues are to dispose of properties or increase the “traffic” of students and faculty using buildings, according to Kadamus and Johnson. UMS is trying to accomplish both.
Trustees are expected to decide Monday whether to allow system and university officials to pursue potential sales of 10 properties in Bangor, Old Town, Machias and Portland.
One of those properties up for consideration is the University of Maine at Machias’ historic Kimball Hall, which recently shuttered due to structural problems. Officials estimate it could need in excess of $4.5 million in work to reopen.
As an example, Johnson said that if Kimball Hall were sold or demolished, the University of Maine at Machias’ overall density rating would improve by 18 percent.
Johnson and Kadamus also reported that 64 percent of the system’s buildings are at least 25 years old, 38 percent over the age of 50 and in various stages of disrepair. The average percentage of buildings over 50 years old for public institutions studied by Sightlines is just 18 percent.
However, the system has changed how it invests in its spaces in recent years. In 2006, more than half of what the system spent on facility investments went into new buildings. In fiscal year 2014, just 7 percent of what the system invested in facilities went to new buildings, but 77 percent went toward fixing and updating existing campus buildings.
“I think you’re heading in the right direction,” Kadamus told the trustees.
Sightlines credited trustees for beginning to “look critically” at whether some of the system’s aging facilities are still needed or worth repairing. System officials have expressed a strong interest in selling or demolishing properties that are underused or don’t make financial sense to repair.
Sightlines and Chip Gavin, University of Maine System director of facilities management and general services, both acknowledged that some of the system’s buildings are historically valuable, which will have to be factored into talks as the system determines what buildings should be done away with or renovated.
Day 2 of the trustees meeting starts at 8:30 a.m. Monday at the University of Maine’s Wells Conference Center.
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