UMaine System hopes to invest $1.2 billion in 400 projects over the next 5 years

Sep. 11—In her five years working at the University of Southern Maine, assistant professor of social work Donna Wampole’s 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 cancelled or ended classes twice in the last two weeks because of a combination of heat and lack of ventilation.

Deferred maintenance has left all seven University of Maine 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.

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

At the UMaine Board of Trustees meeting Monday, campus presidents each presented five-year plans to upgrade their campuses and prepare for the future.

The campus plans come in response to the UMaine System’s five-year strategic plan, which was presented in May. The overall system plan outlined in broad strokes its goals for the future. The seven individual schools’ plans dive into the details and lay out how the costs and the plans for funding.

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 challenges. Enrollment has been steadily declining for years because of the pandemic, a shrinking population of young people and growing apathy 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 instead work to reverse enrollment trends and create a financially sustainable future.

The major strategy to do so is to create $1.2 billion of physical spaces that will attract students to UMaine schools and keep them there.

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

Where all the money will come from to pay for these demolitions, renovations and new buildings is not clear. The system hopes to fund a significant amount of its projects with fundraising, grants, money from congress, bonds and university funds. But the funding source for 30%, or near $400 million, of 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 the strong focus on physical infrastructure leaves little money for programming and other system expenditures.

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

This story will be updated.