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UMPI, UMFK seek $9.3 million through bond initiative to build and renovate

PRESQUE ISLE and FORT KENT, Maine — Officials at the University of Maine at Presque Isle and University of Maine at Fort Kent are hoping that residents of Aroostook County and the rest of Maine will vote for a bond initiative in November that would give millions of dollars to both campuses for major infrastructure upgrades. 

A $75 million bond for upgrades in the University of Maine System that awaits final action in the Legislature would give $3.7 million to UMFK to construct a new Welcome and Admissions Center in place of two older buildings and to renovate Cyr Hall. UMPI would receive $5.6 million to renovate Wieden Hall to expand classroom space for healthcare related programs and make technical upgrades to Wieden Auditorium. Other funds from the overall bond would go toward similar projects at the other five University of Maine System campuses.

However, while lawmakers from both parties support the bond for the universities, it is caught in limbo with dozens of other General Fund bond proposals and hundreds of bills following a legislative stalemate over adjournment in Augusta on Thursday. The Legislature still needs to approve sending bonds out to voters, but, as of early Friday it was unclear when lawmakers might return to handle outstanding work.

The St. David House on the University of Maine at Fort Kent campus currently houses the university’s admissions office. A proposed $75 million bond initiative for projects on University of Maine System campuses includes $3.7 million for UMFK to tear down both the St. David House and Madawaska House and move their offices into a new Welcome and Admissions Center. Cyr Hall also would be renovated to expand classroom and office space. (Courtesy of UMFK)

UMFK and UMPI officials remain hopeful that the bond package will make it to the ballot box and that voters will support it.

Currently at UMFK, the Madawaska House is home to the offices for marketing and communication and fundraising and development while all admissions staff members are located in the St. David House. Both buildings were constructed in 1935 and are in poor shape, according to UMFK President John Short.

As part of the campus’s 10-year master plan, university officials hope to first consolidate all those offices and the president’s office into one building — the Welcome and Admissions Center — and tear down the Madawaska and St. David houses. If the bond package is on the ballot and approved by voters in November, Short said that construction on the building would likely begin in spring 2019.

“UMFK has facilities located on both sides of Pleasant Street in Fort Kent, so we want the Welcome and Admissions Center to bridge both sides of campus and be a welcoming place for everyone whether they are prospective students or potential donors,” Short said. “We want the building to be a gateway to the campus that everyone in the community recognizes.”

The next phase in the project would involve renovating Cyr Hall to allow more space for classrooms as well as offices for human resources and community education. Short is especially excited about possibly expanding classroom space for UMFK’s bachelor of science in nursing program and purchasing furniture that students can move around the space to encourage group projects and collaborations.

Throughout the next 10 years, UMFK will continue to make infrastructure and technical upgrades to Fox Auditorium, residence halls and the sports center, he said. Funds from the bond initiatives would be expected to also have positive impacts on UMFK and UMPI’s collaborations through their nursing and education programs.

Currently, students in the St. John Valley can enroll as UMFK education majors for their first two years but become UMPI students for their final two years to complete their degrees while remaining at the Fort Kent campus. Starting in fall 2018, nursing students in central Aroostook will be able to enroll as nursing students at UMPI and take classes at the Presque Isle campus. After two years they will become UMFK students to finish their bachelor’s degrees but can still complete their coursework at UMPI.

The two universities also are looking at ways to collaborate on programs such as business, criminal justice, environmental science, English and French.

“When we look at the dwindling population of high school seniors in Aroostook County, we know that those students need access to quality higher education and fields that are facing job shortages such as nursing,” Short said. “We have to collaborate in order to meet our area’s workforce needs.”

To accomodate students in the UMPI/UMFK nursing partnership, UMPI officials hope to use the campus’s $5.6 million allocated bond funds to renovate Wieden Hall. Built in 1958, the building contains an auditorium, gymnasium, athletic department offices and classroom spaces for athletic training and physical therapist assistant students.  

“We want to improve the lab and classroom spaces for the various health professions so that students can be trained on how to use the most up-to-date equipment that they’ll also use in their careers,” UMPI Executive Director of University Advancement and Enrollment Deborah Roark said.

Infrastructure changes to Wieden Hall would include electrical system upgrades, roof repairs and the installation of an energy-efficient heating system and windows. Roark stated that the if voters pass the bond initiative, campus officials would put together a plan for improving Wieden Hall and go out to bid with construction companies to begin the renovations as soon as possible.

UMPI also plans on making major improvements to Wieden Auditorium. Since the mid-2000s, cultural performances on campus have raised funds for smaller upgrades such as new stage curtains, speakers and a new light board for the sound booth.

With the bond money, UMPI also would install new flooring and chairs in the auditorium and arrange the space in a way that’s more inviting to students and community members. The new layout would create more room in between rows of seats and make the auditorium ramp more accessible to elderly visitors and those with physical disabilities.

“Ideally, the ramp will start with a downward slope, then have a landing area in the middle and then slope downward again instead of going straight down the whole way,” Roark said. “The design will make it easier for older family members who find it more difficult to walk up and down a straight ramp.”

Through upgrades to Wieden Hall and further academic collaborations with UMFK, Roark said that UMPI will continue to invest in programs that fulfill workforce needs in Aroostook County and provide clear career pathways for students.

“There is an immediate demand for employees within the health professions in the state and that will only increase as our population ages,” Roark said. “The more we invest in students, the more we can support our community and develop our workforce in the future.”

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