The University of New England last week unveiled plans for a new, nearly 112,000-square-foot building in Portland, part of an overall plan to move its medical school out of Biddeford.
The July 26 presentation to the Portland Planning Board was a workshop, so no action was taken. But a university representative said the proposed Harold and Bibby Alfond Center for Health Sciences is part of UNE’s goal of consolidating most of its health professions programs on one campus.
The new building, to be constructed at 780 Stevens Ave. on the site of a former National Guard armory, is part of a $93 million plan to move the College of Osteopathic Medicine to Portland, which is where UNE’s dental, pharmacy, and nursing programs are already based.
The Harold Alfond Foundation donated $30 million for the project, UNE received a $5 million federal grant, and the university will raise the remaining funds on its own.
The building would be four stories tall, but will appear to be three stories from some viewpoints because of the slope of the property. The project will include just under 200 parking spaces for vehicles and 40 for bicycles.
The university is seeking several waivers from the Planning Board, including the number of electric vehicle charging ports required, LED light fixture requirements, and tree and landscaping island requirements. As part of the development, a former residential building will have to be demolished.
UNE had initially hoped to break ground on the project by 2021; the plan now is for the new building to open by 2024.
Alan Thibeault, vice president of university operations, told the board the school has a “hard deadline” of 2024, which is why it tabled a previous request for an institutional overlay zone. The board held a workshop on that proposal in March, before UNE paused the application.
While the application states the university does not believe traffic will be significantly impacted by the new building, Planning Board member Justin Baker said he didn’t have confidence this concern was “being taken seriously” by the university. The application suggests an increase of 624 daily vehicle trips, which Baker said is “not something to ignore.”
The current number of two-way trips from the campus is 1,870.
The development is on just under 11 acres between Morrills Corner and the Deering Center neighborhood in the R-5 residential zone, which means it must have one parking space per 100 square feet of instructional purpose, yielding a requirement of 193 spaces.
UNE is not the only institution of higher education expanding in Portland.
The Roux Institute, a graduate-level program of Boston’s Northeastern University, hopes to build a campus at the former B&M Baked Beans factory on the city’s eastern waterfront.
And the University of Southern Maine is continuing the buildout of its Portland campus just off the peninsula, including a new dormitory and student center.
At UNE’s Biddeford Pool campus, the space now housing the medical school will be used to grow the school’s marine sciences programs, business, and criminology departments.
In addition to the two campuses in Maine, UNE also has a study-abroad program in Tangier, Morocco.
Roux Institute going back to Planning Board
The Portland Planning Board will consider plans for the new Roux Institute campus at a second workshop on Aug. 9.
The proposed redevelopment of the former B&M Baked Beans property, which is set to become a graduate-level program run by Northeastern University, first appeared before the board on June 14 with a request for an institutional overlay zone.
At that workshop, some board members expressed concerns about granting the overlay zone to the developers, Falmouth-based Initiative for Digital Engineering and Life Sciences, and not an institution, largely out of uncertainty about how the campus would develop.
An institutional overlay zone creates a special zone or district over another zone. It is a mechanism employed to outline future development and has two major proponents: a regulatory framework and an institutional development plan.
It is an uncommon planning practice in Portland, where the only other IOZ was granted to the Maine Medical Center campus.
The proposed Roux campus has attracted criticism from some East Deering neighbors, who have claimed the project is too large and would create burdensome traffic. Developers eventually scaled back the proposal by 27 percent, removing nearly 500,000 square feet of developed space.
In addition to the graduate school, the campus is proposed to have housing for students, faculty, and staff, and an eight-story hotel with parking underneath the building and a maximum of 130 rooms.
— Colin Ellis