WATERVILLE — Construction is nearing completion on the $25.5 million residential building Colby College is planning to open this month in the heart of downtown, with the first students scheduled to move in next week.

Dozens of newly wrapped chairs and other furniture crowded the first floor of the new Bill and Joan Alfond Main Street Commons on Monday as builders continued to work on retail and public space that will also be part of the building.

“It’s exciting to think about,” said Brian Clark, vice president of planning at Colby. “One week from today, basically, we’re going to see students living here. And one or two weeks after that, the full 200 will be here. It’s exciting to think about what that means for activity on Main Street.”

The project is part of a multi-million dollar downtown revitalization effort spearheaded by Colby with partnerships with the city and private investors. So far, Colby has contributed $65 million in direct investments into downtown, officials said Monday.

Alfond Commons will house 200 upper-class students in a combination of four and six-bedroom apartments. It will also be home to four faculty members.

The first students are expected to move in next week and the building is expected to be at capacity by the first week of September.

Students have to apply to live in the building, and Colby received more applications than the building could accommodate this year, said Dean Karlene Burrell-McRae.

Civic engagement will be a requirement for all residents, with each student required to take a non-graded seminar each semester focusing on topics such as Waterville history or civic engagement principles.

They will also be required to participate in faculty research addressing needs of the Waterville community; volunteer with a local nonprofit or community partner, such as the local police or fire department; enroll in a civics class; or perform an independent study with a nonprofit.

Burrell-McRae said the program is intended to help students understand what it means to be a part of a community and how to address problems their community is facing.

“This is not a community service program,” she said. “That’s different from being civically minded and civically engaged. Incorporating scholarship into the work, looking at how people use facts and research to inform and solve problems — that is the critical piece in this.”

Alfond Commons will house commercial and public spaces on the ground floor, including Camden National Bank and a glassed-in community space that will be available for use by nonprofit organizations as well as for City Council meetings.

Clark said the college is still looking for tenants for the remaining commercial space on the first floor, which he said is the first new retail space to be added on Main Street in more than 50 years.

“We’re having good conversations with folks trying to figure out what the right thing is for the building and what will compliment what’s on the street already,” he said. “I think there’s some opportunity there knowing there’s some really modern dimensions for what retail space looks like, which is really exciting to think about how that can work for retailers and continue to bring people to Main Street.”

From left, Brian Clark, vice president of planning at Colby College, Paul Ureneck, director of commercial real estate, and Douglas Terp, vice president of administration and chief financial officer, stand in the kitchen area of a four-bedroom suite in the new Colby College dormitory on Monday in Waterville. The first students will begin moving in next week as finishing touches continue to be added to the property. Photo by Nikolas Hample

The council is expected to consider a lease with the college for the space at the end of the month, City Manager Mike Roy said Monday. There is no cost attached to the lease, so the city will be able to use the space for free and save the roughly $25,000 annually it currently spends to rent the space for council meetings and a few offices in The Center.

“One of the building’s primary purposes for students living there is civic engagement,” Roy said. “I think having council meetings there is a good introduction for them into municipal government and the whole process involved with civic engagement.”

A Colby presence downtown will also increase interactions between students and community members, from whom Burrell-McRae said students can learn much.

“I think this would be a terrific program regardless of where we do it, but because of where Colby is geographically located, I do think being able to have students live and interact in an organic and real way with members of the community will be transformative,” she said.

“That’s what’s special about the downtown location. For students who feel like maybe they aren’t welcome or invited downtown, or for members of the community who feel they aren’t welcome at Colby, here’s an opportunity for that. Sometimes you need a sort of neutral location for people to come together. It’s an opportunity for everybody to sort of come together on equal terms.”

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368

[email protected]

Twitter: @rachel_ohm

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