Leaders of the University of Maine system and its individual universities unveiled plans Monday to invest $1.2 billion in physical infrastructure over the next five years.

Deferred maintenance has left all seven UMaine System campuses with aging and deteriorating buildings, some barely fit for use, leaders say.

“The reality is we have billions of dollars of infrastructure that has been underinvested in for the better part of 50 years,” Chancellor Dannel Malloy said during a University of Maine board of trustees meeting Monday.

At the University of Maine in Orono, the system’s flagship school, more than 80% of the residence halls were built before 1975. Sixty-one percent of the school’s buildings have not undergone major renovation in 50 years. Seventy-eight percent have not seen a major renovation in 25 years.

Assistant Professor of Social Work Donna Wampole spoke at the meeting Monday about the need to invest in buildings.

In her five years at the University of Southern Maine, Wampole said her office has leaked or flooded three times, damaging both personal and university property.


She has taught in rooms with visible mold, odd smells and soggy carpets. She canceled or ended classes twice in the last two weeks because of a combination of heat and lack of ventilation.

Monday’s unveiling of systemwide and individual campus capital improvement plans follows the release of the UMaine System’s five-year strategic plan, which was presented in May. The overall system strategic plan outlined in broad strokes its goals for the future. The seven individual schools’ capital plans dive into how they will use their resources to move the system’s long-term plans forward.

University of Southern Maine cut the ribbon on Portland Commons, a new residence hall on the Portland campus, in August. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

In the coming weeks, the schools are due to finish broader plans outlining how they will implement other system goals, including growing online learning and multi-university programs; increasing enrollment, retention and external funding; scrapping courses with low enrollment; creating stronger relationships between Maine businesses, governments and communities; and increasing internship opportunities.

The ambitious investment planned for the seven schools is likely to define the system for years to come. And it comes as the UMaine system is facing significant financial challenges. Enrollment has been declining steadily for years because of the pandemic, a shrinking population of young people and growing doubts about the value of a college degree. With declining enrollment has come declining revenue.

Public university systems around the country are in similar situations. Some have shut down entire campuses.

UMaine System leaders have vowed to avoid such measures and to work instead to reverse enrollment trends and create a financially sustainable future.


The strategy presented Monday aims to do so by investing $1.2 billion in physical spaces that will attract students to UMaine schools and keep them there. Of that total, $504 million would be spent on new construction and the rest would be spent on renovations, utilities, athletic fields and other improvements.

All seven campus schools have plans to build new facilities and renovate old ones to create modern dorms, research and other academic spaces, and athletic and other facilities.


Where the money will come from to pay for the improvements is not clear. System leaders acknowledged the funding challenge and called the plan aspirational.

The system hopes to pay for a significant amount of its projects with fundraising, grants, earmark funding from Congress, state-issued bonds and university funds. But the funding source for 30%, or near $400 million, of the planned projects systemwide is yet to be determined, according to the plan documents presented Monday. Some schools don’t know where they are going to get over 50% of the money needed for their plans.

System leaders said these investments are necessary, but they noted concerns that a strong focus on physical infrastructure could leave little money for programming and other system expenditures.


The focus on infrastructure “has the potential for crowding out dollars for other issues,” Malloy said.

In addition, the massive investment might be somewhat at odds with one of the system’s major goals – to increase online learning and grow multi-university programs that allow students living on one campus to enroll remotely in programs at other campuses.

In response to a question from Trustee David MacMahon about how a future of more online learning and less need for physical space was factored into the capital plan, Nathan Harris, the associate director for capital planning for the system, said the system is working with a consultant to figure out how the need for physical space might change as the schools grow online learning programs.

The system’s largest schools – the flagship school in Orono and the University of Southern Maine in Portland and Gorham – plan to spend far more than the five other campuses: Farmington, Augusta, Fort Kent, Presque Isle and Machias.

UMaine plans to spend $848 million on 116 projects, including $100 million for a new dormitory, $32 million for existing dormitory renovations and $80 million for a health sciences academic building. The University of Southern Maine hopes to spend $194.6 million on 90 projects, including more than $50 million for a new academic building and center for the arts. Each of the other schools will spend between $9.7 million to just over $30 million on its projects.

Throughout the system, 44% of the money is planned for new construction and 28% is to be used for renovations. The remainder of the money is for utility infrastructure, heating and lighting systems, fixing exterior parts of buildings like roofs, light renovations like painting, new athletic fields, demolition and updating grounds.

The plan presented Monday includes 400 projects. But before those projects can get underway they need to secure funding and receive board approval.

“There’s still some work to be done to make this a reality,” Harris said.

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