HOULTON – Postsecondary education in southern Aroostook County will get a major boost this morning when an official renovation ceremony is held to mark the start of work on the new University of Maine at Presque Isle Houlton Higher Education Center.
“The community is very excited about this project,” Nancy Hensel, president of UMPI, said Monday during a telephone interview. “They see it as a key to continued economic development in the area.”
Today’s ceremony, which begins at 9:30 a.m. at the former Shop ‘n Save store on Military Street, will include short speeches from Hensel and other community members, and music provided by the Houlton High School band.
Hannaford Bros., the parent company of Shop ‘n Save, donated the old store building to the University of Maine System last February. The Legislature subsequently approved $2 million for the renovation of the structure.
Last week, Buildings Etc. of Houlton was awarded a contract as general contractor for the project. The company’s base bid was $1,249,241.
Charles Bonin, UMPI vice president of finance and administration, said nine bids were received for the project, which will require the renovation of the 15,500-square-foot store in time for classes to open by Aug. 1.
The facility was closed as a supermarket in 1994 when Hannaford Bros. opened a new store on Ludlow Road off U.S. Route 1.
The center will have several classrooms, including some with movable walls to allow space for larger groups. There will also be facilities for two-way computer instruction, televised instruction, video conferencing, an art area, a small library and offices.
A rear-loading dock will be renovated to be used by NMTC as a classroom area and to bring in larger items for those classes.
Chuck Ames, director of the UMPI center in Houlton, said the new facility would be a big improvement over the 3,500 feet now occupied at the Park View Terrace building on Main Street.
“We’re proud of what we do now and where we are, but we’ve kind of outgrown it,” he said Monday.
The number of students enrolled at the center is about 200, but Ames said he expects that to jump to 300 once the new center is opened.
Hensel said officials have noticed a trend of more young people coming into the center, whereas in the past, older nontraditional students were completing work on a degree that they had started previously.
“What we’re finding is that many students are starting right out of high school and doing a year or two [at the Houlton Center],” Hensel said.
She said the attention given to the new higher-education center project over the past two years has been a factor in generating new interest in programs and classes offered at Houlton.
One of the biggest benefits, said Hensel, is that adult education programs from SAD 29 in Houlton, SAD 70 in Hodgdon, Northern Maine Technical College and UMPI will be in the same building.
“We’ll be able to advise the students and help the students select what will best meet their career and education needs, all under one roof,” she said. “They won’t have to chase down the information.”
After today’s ceremony, a construction meeting will be held after which “they should start right away at it,” said Bonin.