The University of Maine at Augusta, which opened 50 years ago without a campus and has only recently shifted its focus to four-year degree programs, is planning another step in its evolution: opening a dorm on campus in 2017.

If it goes as planned, the project will not only be a first for the Augusta college but also for the University of Maine System. Unlike all other housing on the seven university system campuses, the dorm is planned to be owned and operated by a private developer.

The university has been exploring the possibility of developing student housing for years, but the recent effort is driven by the popularity and expected growth of a couple of programs that attract more traditionally-aged students, UMA’s architecture and aviation programs, said Tim Brokaw, vice president for finance and administration.

The university is working with a Portland-based developer to build and operate the dormitory. Now, the plan is to build a 70-bed dorm on campus, but the university and the developer will spend the next several months working out the details, Brokaw said.

“It’s nothing the University of Maine System has attempted before, so we’re in new territory, but I’m really excited about it,” he said. “There’s a lot of upside obviously for the university and the city of Augusta as well.”

Elise Bolduc, who just finished her second year in UMA’s five-year architecture program, is the type of student the university hopes to attract and serve with the dorm. Bolduc, 25, is from Quebec, Canada.

“It was really hard for me to find an apartment there, being from another country,” she said.

Bolduc searched for housing in Augusta by looking online and calling landlords while living at home in Canada. In the summer before starting at UMA, she and her father made two trips down to Augusta to look at apartments, but they did not look like the photos in the advertisements, Bolduc said.

Finally, two weeks before classes started, Bolduc found an apartment near Lithgow Library through someone at the university.

Bolduc said it would be much easier for international students like herself if UMA offered student housing.

Another architecture student, Abbey Slinker, 23, lives in Portland, but said she would consider moving into an on-campus dorm at UMA. She said it’s been difficult to find housing in the Augusta area.

“I think if UMA had offered housing, I would have moved up there my freshman year,” Slinker said, “and I think that would have been a lot easier because it’s such an intensive program.”

Slinker said she plans to move closer to Augusta for the fall, when she starts her third year in the program.

A 2012 study commissioned by the university to look into privatized student housing options found that there was a potential pool of more than 200 students interested in UMA housing in downtown Augusta. And even though rental housing stock in and around Augusta is limited, Brokaw said, the university system doesn’t want to fund expansions in university facilities.

The trustees approved UMA’s five-year strategic plan, which includes devoting $38,000 from reserves to develop the on-campus housing project, at their meeting last week.

The partnership with a private developer would allow the university to create new housing for students without taking on additional debt, Brokaw said. The developer would finance the project and take on the risk of filling it. The university would advertise the facility and potentially collaborate on cost-saving measures like sharing parking lots, he said.

However, specific details of the project haven’t been decided, he said. The university plans to work with the developer chosen for the project, Developers Collaborative, to create a detailed plan to bring to the system Board of Trustees by the end of the year or early next year and finish the building by fall of 2017, Brokaw said.

Kevin Bunker, owner and founder of Developers Collaborative, said he likes working with public partners to figure out their needs, while still making the numbers work for the private side. His company completed a student housing project in 2011 in Portland for Maine Medical Center and Tufts University School of Medicine, but Bunker said he is interested in developing the first public-private housing project for the University of Maine System.

“It’s a new model that we’re trying to develop, so that’s what’s really kind of exciting about it,” he said.

The last dormitory built by the University of Maine System, Upperclass Hall at the University of Southern Maine in Gorham, cost $20.3 million, according to system spokesman Dan Demeritt. Completed in 2007 to house up to 296 students, the dorm had around 225 students living there last year, which was full capacity, according to Demeritt.

There is still nearly $18 million remaining in outstanding debt from the project.

Demeritt said the system’s facility expenses and footprint are already too big. The system needs to adjust to more students taking classes remotely and not on campus, and reducing its physical footprint is part of that, he said. But in this case, the collaboration with a private developer will allow the university to fill a new need, and the trustees are enthusiastically supporting it, he said.

“It’s an innovative approach,” Demeritt said, “and we’re trying to do that more and more.”

Paul Koenig — 621-5663

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Twitter: @pdkoenig