AUGUSTA — The University of Maine at Augusta officially opened its new Veterans Academic Center on Thursday as part of the institution’s ongoing commitment to serving veterans.

The new space is located in a large, first-floor room in the Bennett D. Katz Library, and it will serve as a common meeting space for the school’s veteran student population. More than 75 people attended a ribbon-cutting ceremony Thursday afternoon and toured the new space.

“One of the best practices for veterans is to provide them a physical space, and it’s also important to provide collaborations,” said Amy Line, the school’s coordinator of military and veterans services. “This new space does that, and we’ve been able to take our work to a new level.”

The final cost for the project was $80,000, Line said. The Windover Foundation — which provides funding to organizations dedicated to meeting a pressing, unfilled social need — awarded a $50,000 grant for the project. The remaining $30,000 came from the UMA foundation and reserves.

Retired Navy Capt. Robert Fuller, whose family foundation provided the bulk of the funding, said he’s glad the center is finally open.

“All the credit for the vision goes to Amy Line, and I also thank the administration for supporting her vision to get this done,” Fuller said.

The new veterans’ center replaced the lounge that was on the second floor of the Randall Student Center. The school’s veteran population had outgrown that space, so a larger space was created that will enable UMA to build a network of community resources around veterans by bringing those resources to the veterans’ center on campus.

Samantha Brown, a Navy veteran in her third semester at UMA, said the new space will be something she’ll take advantage of often.

“I think it’s in the general flow of where we’re going (on campus), and the lighting is amazing here compared to the older facility,” Brown said. “I had been using the library, but this is going to be a great asset.”

The new space has three separate areas, including an office for Line that also will be a private, one-on-one meeting space if a veteran needs privacy. There is a computer area with adjustable, sit-stand desks next to the large common space, and there will be a large conference table to hold meetings and group discussions. Veterans will be able to take online examinations, write and print papers and study.

“The computers are outstanding. The desk is awesome, and during the boring stuff, you can raise the desk up and keep working,” said Brad Blais, a Marine Corps veteran studying public administration.

Blais said there’s always a class you’re in that a fellow veteran will be taking, and vice versa, so he expects there to be a lot of collaboration and sharing hints and tips among veterans using the center.

The space, Line said, was designed to improve accessibility for those who will use the center. Its LED lighting, color schemes, leather couch and several large chairs will provide a more learning-conducive environment for those with traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder. There are touch-screen computers and other technological improvements for veterans to use.

Line said school officials began seriously considering a dedicated center in 2014 when Allyson Handley was UMA president. They were mapping out long-range goals and saw that veteran enrollment, after implementation of a post-9/11 GI Bill, was increasing, so they knew they eventually would outgrow the old space.

Randall Liberty, the warden of the Maine State Prison, a veteran and UMA graduate, said veterans carry many burdens, and the center will be a big help to all veterans.

“One of the things important to veterans is that they have a shared experience, so if they can have the opportunity to work together and study together, it goes a long way to helping them transition back,” Liberty said.

There are a lot of veteran services providers in the area, but there wasn’t a dedicated veterans center until now. To get some services, Line said, a veteran had to go to Lewiston, Bangor or elsewhere in Maine. Now the services will be more readily available.

UMA President Rebecca Wyke praised Line and said she knows best how to serve the needs of veterans. She thanked the veterans for trusting the school to fulfill their educational needs and said it makes their work even more special.

James Page, chancellor of the University of Maine System, said UMA has been at the forefront in its engagement and partnership with the veteran community. He said a point of pride and optimism is that one out of every 11 Maine citizens is a veteran.

“That’s an asset base that most states don’t have,” Page said. “It is one that we have to capitalize on.”

Demographically, UMA has a nontraditional student population, including first-generation college students and older students returning to school after changing careers or people going to college for the first time after many years of working in a different capacity.

Room 41 of the Katz Library was occupied previously by UMA’s drone initiative, a part of the school’s aviation program. They relocated to another part of the campus earlier this year.

Jason Pafundi — 621-5663

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Twitter: @jasonpafundiKJ