BANGOR — Downtown merchants are rolling out the welcome mat for the city’s community college.
Although discussions are only in preliminary stages, Bangor businesspeople are very enthusiastic about the possibility of University College relocating downtown.
“I have not heard of anyone who is not positive about it,” said Cynthia Cavanaugh, president of the Downtown Bangor Association.
She called the possible move “very logical.” Businesses would benefit from having an additional 1,000 people downtown, and the school — a branch of the University of Maine at Augusta housed in a hodgepodge of buildings near the airport — would benefit from a more central location, she said.
UMA President Owen Cargol said a move to downtown may benefit the college, but he stressed that it is only one of many options that will be considered by the school.
University College will shortly receive $1.8 million from the sale of land that it owned on Ohio Street. The money is to be used to improve the school’s facilities. That could mean renovating buildings on its current campus on Texas Avenue, building new buildings in the same location or moving to a new location. A move could be to downtown Bangor or, possibly, to the campus of Eastern Maine Technical College.
These and other options will be discussed at length by a committee of university and municipal officials that will be formed later this summer, Cargol said.
“Downtown has some advantages, but so do EMTC and our current location,” he said.
EMTC President Joyce Hedlund said she agreed to serve on the committee but was surprised to see Cargol enumerate “co-locating at EMTC” among a list of options that UC was considering in a letter that was published by the Bangor Daily News last week.
Although EMTC does have about 60 dorm spaces that are not occupied, Hedlund did not suggest that UC share its campus. She said any agreement with UC would be very complex and that she is concerned about maintaining a high-quality technical education program.
While university officials want to move slowly, city officials are lining up behind a possible move to downtown, which was proposed by Sen. Mary Cathcart, D-Orono, last month.
“It would be a good thing for downtown,” said City Manager Edward Barrett. He said having the campus downtown would help local businesses while making UC more easily accessible to a greater number of people.
He said the city of Bangor is interested in developing the land where UC is currently housed in rundown buildings, many of them left over from Dow Air Force Base. He said the land could be used for a business park, as much of the adjacent land already is.
Airport Manager Bob Ziegelaar is also interested in seeing UC move to a new location. He said he would support a move either to downtown or to the EMTC campus, so the current location can be developed.
City Councilor Joseph Baldacci said a move to downtown would help UC attract more students. He said a downtown location, with its proximity to restaurants, a central bus stop and offices that offer internship possibilities, would help the school develop a stronger identity.
Baldacci also said he would like to see the university reinvest in the city some of the money it received from the sale of the property on Ohio Street. The Maine State Housing Authority bought the land with the help of $500,000 from the city.
“Bangor has a wonderful downtown but it needs people in it,” said Sen. Cathcart. She wrote to University of Maine System Chancellor Terry MacTaggart proposing the move after she and her husband visited Burlington, Vt., and her husband remarked that it would be nice if Bangor had an urban campus, too.
“It would be mutually beneficial,” she said.
Included in Cathcart’s plan is the prickly issue of reaffiliating UC with the Orono campus. Two years ago the Bangor campus, which has no dormitories and no cafeteria, was severed from UM as the Orono campus rid itself of two-year programs. University College then became part of the University of Maine at Augusta, which also has a campus in Lewiston-Auburn. Some have wondered why UC is affiliated with the Augusta campus while UM is only 15 miles away and some students take classes both in Bangor and Orono.
Cathcart is now pushing to have UC reaffiliated with the Orono campus.
UM President Frederick Hutchinson, who is retiring later this month, has reiterated several times that he will not reconsider the decision to cut its ties with University College.
Bangor officials have said they will steer clear of the controversy.
Still, there are other issues to be worked out. One potential stumbling block to a downtown location is the lack of parking.
“It’s promising. It’s interesting. But we need to sit down and talk about the pros and cons,” said John Rohman, president of the Bangor Region Chamber of Commerce.
If such a move were to take place, it would not be the first time Bangor has a college downtown. From its founding in 1898 until 1967, Husson College had three different downtown locations. In 1968, the business college moved to its current location on the outskirts of town.
“It might be nice for downtown,” said Paul Husson, fondly remembering the days when his father’s college was located on Park Street, across from the Thomas Rod Co., the maker of much sought-after fly fishing rods. “I hope it succeeds.”