WATERVILLE — Turning off Interstate 95 on to Main Street brings a driver downtown to old Post Office Square, near Colby College’s original grounds, and on to the one-way run down the street. On the right rises the new downtown dorm, the blue Colby sign on its top level marking its origin as much as its affiliation, its inhabitants crossing the street to grab a coffee at a restaurant and then head to their rides.

The brand new building’s older neighbors show signs of shrugging off the past to put on the future, whether Colby blue or not. The building’s contours and signage are matched by the raw bones of another new building projecting in the distance, the college’s Lockwood Hotel. The efficient execution of these projects reveals a sure exercise of power, power fueled by money and, more importantly, the daring it takes to leverage it.

Thursday the college announced that its Dare Northward campaign, launched three years ago, had reached a milestone: $500 million. Currently the largest higher education fundraising initiative in Maine, the effort, fueled by more than 20,000 donors, is two-thirds of the way to its goal of $750 million.

Speaking before an architect’s rendering of The Lockwood Hotel, David Greene, president of Colby College, on June 3 outlines plans for the hotel that will be built in downtown Waterville. Morning Sentinel file photo

“The acts of generosity that sustain and propel this institution are truly remarkable,” President David Greene said in a news release. “The College has never been stronger in the quality of its academic programs and student experience, and we are deeply grateful to every member of the Colby community who is making this journey possible.”

The campaign is about more than buildings. In its offerings to students it has enabled the college to expand its faculty, curriculum and research areas, targeting fields such as computational biology and genomics, environmental humanities and data science, the release says. These in turn have helped expand other programs such as creative writing, art and mathematics. Partnerships with other institutions such as the Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor and the Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences in East Boothbay offer students more opportunities.

Some 93% of Colby students have taken advantage of the campaign-funded DavisConnects program, which opens doors and may pay the way for students to put their liberal arts education into practice through internships and global opportunities.

In an age of spiraling costs for higher education, the campaign has financed two new aid programs, according to the release. In addition to being one of the few colleges in the country to replace loans with grants, the college no longer requires a contribution from parents or guardians if their total household income is less than $60,000 and their assets are “typical” for their level of income. Another program funded by the Fair Shot Fund requires families earning up to $150,000 a year with “typical” assets to contribute $15,000 or less.

The downtown dorm, formally known as the Bill & Joan Alfond Main Street Commons, represents the vanguard in the college’s commitment to the community, a requirement for the 200 students, faculty and staff associated with the dorm. The college notes in the release that last year students contributed about 27,000 hours of service to community organizations and individuals.

The campaign is also an investment in making the Waterville area a destination. The Lockwood Hotel, the Paul J. Schupf Art Center downtown, the performing arts center that is now under design, the museum of art and the Lunder Institute for American Art, and the athletics center that is scheduled to open in 2020 are what the news release calls “important assets” and points out the value of the athletics center in particular to the local community.

And the college is not done yet.

“We’ve made great progress over the last three years, but we’re not done,” Greene said in the news release. “We’re going to ensure that Colby is a leader in higher education for generations to come, and that means there is much more work ahead. I’ve learned never to underestimate the passion and determination of the Colby community, and I can’t wait to see what we can accomplish together in the years ahead.”

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