AUGUSTA — The University of Maine at Augusta has received a grant that will help turn an existing campus space into a new veterans center, a school official said Wednesday.

Joyce Blanchard, the school’s vice president for university advancement, said a large, first-floor room in the Bennett D. Katz Library will become the new home to a veterans center that will provide a common meeting space for the institution’s student veteran population.

According to Blanchard, the Windover Foundation — which provides funding to organizations dedicated to meeting a pressing, unfulfilled social need — awarded UMA $50,000 for the project, which will cost about $80,000. The remaining $30,000 will come from the UMA foundation and reserves.

“Serving veterans is at the heart and soul of UMA’s history, and UMA enrolls the most number of veterans in the Maine system and will continue to serve this population with distinction,” school President James Conneely said in an email. “The new center will allow us to continue meeting the needs of the veteran population in Maine in a more appropriate venue on campus.”

A December 2013 report on veterans in the university system shows that 453 veterans were enrolled at UMA in the 2012-13 academic year.

Currently, there is a veterans lounge on the second floor of the Randall Student Center, but the school’s veteran population has outgrown the space, said Amy Line, a Navy veteran and UMA’s coordinator of military and veteran services.

“The larger space will enable UMA to build a network of community resources around veterans by bringing resources to the veteran center on campus,” Line said. “As a veteran and a UMA alum myself, it is heartwarming for the opportunity to continue to serve our military and veterans.”

Returning veterans often have post-traumatic stress or injuries or just need someone to talk to who has shared similar experiences. Line said their grant proposal spoke about how important having a common space is when a veteran is transitioning back to civilian life.

“Our community has wonderful support group services, but they don’t start until (later in the day),” Line said. The school hopes the center will offer those services throughout the day so that veterans are able to still be home spending time with their families.

Line said school officials began seriously considering a dedicated center in 2014 when Allyson Handley was still 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 were going to outgrow that space.

“During our 50th anniversary campaign (two years ago), we were thinking about how we could better support our veterans,” Blanchard said.

The new space, Blanchard said, should be completed at the beginning of September after a couple of weeks of interior renovations. There will be three separate areas including an office that Line will use that will also provide a private, one-on-one meeting space if a veteran needs privacy. There will be a computer area closed off from the larger common space, and there will be a large conference table to hold meetings and group discussions.

“There is such a sense of community because the veteran experience is so unique,” Blanchard said. “Having people to talk to and having a sense of camaraderie is so critical to that student population.”

There are a lot of veteran services providers in the area, but there isn’t a veterans center. To get some services, Line said, a veteran has to go to Lewiston or Bangor or elsewhere in Maine, because they aren’t available.

“For the last couple of years, we’ve brought those services and organizations to campus that we don’t have,” she said. “We have tutoring services, labs and a lot of other services, but we don’t have the community services so that veterans can get before and after class.”

It’s not usually the classroom material or academia that gets in the way of success, Line said, but rather things like transportation problems or a financial or health situation.

“The center will provide an opportunity to formally bring those services and set-up something like having a benefits counselor (here) every Wednesday,” she said.

The Augusta school is a short drive from the VA Maine Healthcare Systems-Togus facility in Chelsea, and Line and Blanchard hope to use some of its resources in the new center. A Togus spokesman said via email that Togus isn’t directly involved in the project and wasn’t aware of the school’s plans.

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.

Line said it was a natural fit for UMA to work with veterans because of the great work the school was doing with the nontraditional population. When the school was incorporated in 1965, officials targeted Vietnam veterans and hung a “Welcome Veterans” sign at the school’s entrance.

“We were one of the leaders and positioned ourselves to keep up with the best practices,” the Navy veteran said. “We’re trying to be more deliberate in providing support because more veterans are going to college after the change in the GI Bill.”

Currently, the school’s drone initiative, a part of the aviation program, uses Room 41 at the Katz Library, but they are relocating to a different spot on campus in early August after hosting a conference. Blanchard said construction would commence shortly thereafter, and she hopes to have a big grand opening of the new center around Veterans Day, which is Nov. 11.

“It’ll be in an easy-to-find, highly visible location in the center of campus in between the two busiest buildings on campus,” Blanchard said. “We are super-excited, because it’ll be a constant reminder that UMA is top-notch in supporting its veteran students.”

Jason Pafundi — 621-5663

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Twitter: @jasonpafundiKJ