The University of Maine System board of trustees is keeping its options open when it comes to figuring out what to do with seven buildings on the University of Southern Maine’s Portland campus that are known as the “white houses.”

The board had been scheduled to vote Monday on whether to authorize the sale of the buildings, but USM President David Flanagan told trustees Sunday that they should consider holding on to the land while either selling or leasing the buildings.

“Notwithstanding the current (financial situation), I believe that USM will one day be one of the most attractive and appealing campuses on the East Coast,” Flanagan said at a meeting of the trustees at the University of Maine in Orono. “The day may come, within the terms of some of you here on the board, where we will want to think about expanding housing on the Portland campus.”

The buildings, all single-family residential homes, are currently used as offices for some faculty and staff, including the marketing and human resources department. One property houses the economics department, with offices for two faculty members, an administrative assistant and visiting faculty.

Flanagan also pointed out that the system does not have a comprehensive master plan for facilities, and such a plan should be considered before selling off key property.

“There is so much potential, if we had the demand,” Flanagan said of the USM properties.


USM economics professor Susan Feiner had criticized the idea of selling the buildings for the same reason, when the idea was first discussed two weeks ago.

Flanagan also pointed out that if the properties are sold outright, the university would lose control over what companies moved in.

“These … streets are immediately adjacent to campus,” he said. “You can imagine the kind of businesses that would want to go in, and (some) that would not be consistent” with the university mission or image.

While Portland zoning rules would govern any development, controlling the decision would be out of campus officials’ hands.

Board of trustees Chairman Samuel Collins directed staff to redraft the language of the USM property motion to include exploring the option of keeping the land while selling or leasing the buildings. The trustees will vote on the new motion Monday on the second day of their two-day monthly meeting.

Flanagan emphasized that he still plans to vacate the buildings and does not want to use them for USM.


“They are energy hogs, they are costly maintenance black holes, and they tend to create a silo mentality as different departments are isolated from one another in different structures,” he said. Employees in the buildings will be moved onto campus by fall, officials have said.

The proposed sale was part of a request from system facilities officials that all seven campuses consider ways to reduce their facility costs or reduce their campus footprint.

On Monday, the trustees will vote on whether to authorize several property sales, including system headquarters at 16 Central St. in Bangor. Also on the list is a University of Maine property of about 30 acres of undeveloped land with road frontage on Stillwater Avenue in Old Town, and Kimball Hall on the University of Maine at Machias campus, which houses faculty offices and a small dining area.

At USM, the seven buildings in question are only some of the USM-owned residential homes in the neighborhood. The school also owns a row of homes on Bedford Street facing the campus, and a row of seven homes on Exeter Street behind the University of Maine School of Law.

Five of the seven properties are in a row at 1, 7, 11, 15 and 19 Chamberlain Ave. The other properties are at 209 Deering Ave. and 11 Granite St.

They have not been appraised, but university officials estimated they would sell for a total of between $1.2 million and $1.4 million, based on a report recently prepared by Planning Decisions of Hallowell. Officials estimated USM could save about $300,000 annually in overhead costs.

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