AUGUSTA — University of Maine at Augusta President Allyson Handley, who will leave next month for a job in California, said her heart will always remain at UMA. She found out Friday that her last name will remain as well.

The chancellor of the University of Maine System surprised Handley at UMA’s welcome-back breakfast Friday morning, announcing a university building in downtown Augusta will be named after Handley.

The Gannett Building at 331 Water St., which houses architecture and art programs, will be renamed Handley Hall. The university received the building as a gift in 2010 from Portland developer Richard McGoldrick, who owns several downtown Augusta buildings.

“I’m just overwhelmed,” Handley said after the event. “My heart is full. I just really never imagined something like this would occur. What can I say? It’s just pretty amazing.”

Chancellor James Page said he found out about the effort from the UMA community to name the building after Handley when he visited the university two weeks ago. Naming a building after someone isn’t an honor bestowed lightly by the system’s Board of Trustees, so Page had to make sure there was widespread support for it.

“The fact that it was so widespread, and they managed to keep it a secret is incredible,” he said.

The trustees won’t officially vote on the change until their meeting Sept. 21, but Page said the board’s Executive Committee already supports it. “There’s no question it will get a resounding endorsement,” he said.

Handley announced Aug. 11 she had accepted a job at the National University in San Diego, where she worked for much of the 1990s. The University of Maine System will announce an interim president soon, Page said Friday.

“She’s been a very important partner to me in strategically thinking through how we move forward as a system,” Page said. “We’re losing a president, and I’m losing a great voice.”

During Handley’s six-and-a-half years as president, the university shifted its focus more toward four-year baccalaureate degrees and away from two-year associate degree programs. At her first UMA graduation, in 2008, 54 percent of graduates received bachelor’s degrees, while 46 percent received associate degrees. This year, 65 percent graduated with bachelor’s degrees and 35 percent graduated with associate degrees.

Credit hours for baccalaureate degrees also increased from 55,154 in the 2009-2010 school year to 69,445 credit hours in the 2012-2013 school year.

UMA also created new programs in architecture, aviation and nursing; and it built partnerships with business and civic leaders and legislators in local communities during Handley’s tenure.

To coincide with university’s 50th anniversary in 2015, UMA launched a capital campaign this year with a goal of raising $5 million to $7.5 million to support scholarships, online programs, veterans services and an auditorium expansion.

Handley said during her State of the University address before breakfast that the campaign has raised close to $1 million.

“And as you celebrate our first 50 years while preparing for the next 50,” Handley said, “I can tell you with full confidence and all my heart that as far as UMA has come and as much as we have accomplished and as many students whom we have helped and as many lives as we have changed, I still believe the best is yet to come.”

Paul Koenig — 621-5663

[email protected]

Twitter: @paul_koenig

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