WATERVILLE — On a cold, blustery day that forecast winter was on its way, U.S. Sen. Susan Collins got a firsthand tour of the future of downtown Waterville and the partnership between the city and Colby College.

Collins, a Republican, arrived shortly after 2 p.m. Monday at 173 Main St., the site of one of Colby’s major investments in the town, with the temperature hovering near the freezing mark. But once inside the former Hains building, Collins remarked on just how far the school had come with its efforts to reshape the downtown area. Looking out the window of the top floor, Colby College President David Greene outlined the school’s biggest project it has going, the massive mixed-use building that 200 students will call home next year.

The new building at 150 Main St. is scheduled to open next August. The 100,000-square-foot building, a $25.5 million complex that spearheads Colby’s efforts to revitalize the downtown area, also will feature retail and community spaces. It is one of a number of multimillion-dollar investments the college has made in downtown Waterville.

Speaking with Greene, Collins said it was exciting to see the new building going up.

“I was so stunned by the size,” Collins told the Morning Sentinel while walking in the new building. “This is a game changer for Waterville.”

Touring the old Hains building, Collins saw that the top floor was already home to workers. The former Hains building itself, which the college bought and has since renovated, houses working college staff members, and workers from CGI, a software consulting group, are expected to follow suit soon.

Collins said it was remarkable to see projects such as the Hains building, which had been vacant for a long time, coming back to life.

Greene said when Colby first took over the vacant building, it heard from residents who were inspired to see the construction lights on inside. The building had been in the dark for a long time.

“You can take an old space and bring it back to life,” he said as the two looked over at the mixed-use building’s construction site.

He said the construction was also a way to get hundreds of people downtown who otherwise wouldn’t come there, and make Waterville more of a destination for people to want to see.

“I think that’s terrific,” Collins said.

When Collins asked how the building will fit in with Colby’s existing campus, Greene said the college already has begun a shuttle service that will expand once the students are living downtown. He said about 100 students live off campus already, so this new building will only continue to bring college activities downtown.

“This is truly wonderful,” Collins said.

Colby officials gave Collins and her staff a quick tour of the new building, which does not have an official name yet. She was shown where a classroom space would be on the upper floor, where an apartment would be down the hall from that, and where a community space would be on the first floor. While the building was still mostly a bare-bones image of what it will be eventually, Greene showed off renderings and designs of what the finished product will become by next fall.

“It’s incredibly exciting to be in this structure and see the extraordinary building that will be coming very soon,” Greene said after Collins had left.

He added the building represents a “new future for Waterville” and the possibility of a new, vibrant downtown.

Last spring, the college showed off its revitalization efforts to the other half of Maine’s Senate delegation, independent U.S. Sen. Angus King. Like Collins, King toured the downtown area, where the state’s junior senator saw the work being done at the Hains building on 173 Main St. before concluding the tour at the site of the former Levine’s clothing store, where Colby plas to build a boutique hotel. That project is scheduled for completion sometime in 2019.

Colin Ellis — 861-9253

[email protected]

Twitter: @colinoellis


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