The top photograph shows Erskine Hall on June 21, 2013, before renovations. The bottom photograph was taken Thursday, opening day for the new University of Maine at Augusta dormitory at Stevens Commons in Hallowell. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

HALLOWELL — College move-in day looks different this year for the University of Maine at Augusta, but not only because of the face masks and coronavirus restrictions. 

UMA is welcoming students to the newly renovated Erskine Hall at Stevens Commons in Hallowell after an 11-month renovation that cost almost $4 million.

The renovation comes a year after Stevens Hall was redone as a dormitory on the UMA campus.

Matt Morrill, the contractor on the project, said Erskine Hall had to be gutted and rebuilt. 

“It was one of the roughest buildings on campus,” Morrill said of the building that had been vacant for 40 years. “It was probably one of the roughest buildings that I’ve ever dealt with.” 

The building was constructed in 1897 and was a dormitory for the now-closed Maine Industrial School for Girls. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, so Morrill had to take extra steps to ensure the renovations met federal standards for historical buildings.

“We took the building from the worst-possible condition and made a real gem of it,” he said. “We are happy, the university is happy and the community is happy.”

Each room has a kitchen, bathroom and individual bedrooms for students living in the suite. 

“My suite is pretty nice. It doesn’t seem normal,” first-year architecture student Kendra Benson said. “My older sister is in college, and this definitely isn’t what her on campus experience was like.” 

Kendra Benson texts her new roommates Thursday at Erskine Hall, the new University of Maine at Augusta dormitory at Stevens Commons in Hallowell. The mantel makes a good television stand, but the fireplace does not work. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

Benson of Turner only visited the Augusta campus once because of the coronavirus. She described herself on move-in day as shaking from nerves as she approached the check-in area with her parents.

“It sucks not being able to be social in person,” she said of her first-year college expectations. “COVID is definitely a little bit of a concern because it is a pandemic. But with the masks and everything, I think everything should be OK. I assume the school is doing their best. I’m putting my trust in them and hope everything goes OK.” 

Prior to arrival, UMA students must take a COVID-19 test. University officials said only one student out of 2,338 has tested positive.

In a regular year, 82 students would be living in Erskine and Stevens Hall. Because of the coronavirus, 58 students will be living at the two halls that feature suite-style housing.

Students will go through another round of COVID-19 testing after they move into university housing, and are required to quarantine in their rooms until they receive their test results. Masks are mandatory on campus and at the residence halls.  

Kim Kennison, the Erskine and Stevens residence hall manager, said first-year students will not have the typical college experience, but she is looking to use the time students are quarantined until their COVID-19 results come back to establish a community.

“They’re going to have suite mates, which I think is the best of both worlds,” she said. “It gives students a place where they can go to take a breath and decompress, or open the door to have face-to-face interaction when they do want it. It adds a layer of protection to students and the ability to create communities in suites.”

In the bottom photograph, Jocelyn Mahar moves into her new room Thursday at Erskine Hall, the new University of Maine at Augusta dormitory at Stevens Commons in Hallowell. The top photograph was taken April 20, 2017, before the renovations. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

Through the Zoom videoconferencing platform, there will be bingo on Friday night and Pictionary on Saturday night as residents get to know one another.

“For the first few weeks, we aren’t allowing guests that don’t live in the residence halls to come in,” Kennison said. “We are wanting to make sure we can build a thoughtful community from the ground up.

“Hopefully, we can invite other students and guests of friends, but making sure we are always focusing on the fact that this community and health and safety of students is most important.” 

Tori Chamberlain unpacks in her third-floor room Thursday at Erskine Hall, the new University of Maine at Augusta dormitory at Stevens Commons in Hallowell. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

Tori Chamberlain, a first-year dental hygiene student from central Massachusetts, said Thursday she had yet to meet anyone at UMA. And while she is “isn’t a big online, Zoom person,” she said she will try to attend virtual hall events to meet other students. Chamberlain came equipped with a dozen cloth masks.

Her mother, Hanifa Nelson, said she is not too worried about sending her daughter to college during the COVID-19 pandemic. Her greater concern, she said, is her daughter’s hesitation with taking the university shuttle bus to classes in Augusta.

“You have to continue going,” Nelson said. “It doesn’t matter what’s going on.”

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