ORONO, Maine — In the face of years of budget cuts, the University of Maine continues to find ways to spend — $70 million this year — to upgrade and expand buildings.
In the past two years, the university has dedicated $200 million for renovations and construction projects, according to Elaine Clark, UMaine’s executive director of facilities, real estate and planning.
“We’re doing it very creatively … by assembling different funding sources wherever we can find them,” Clark said.
Of the $70 million in play for projects this year, 5 percent is university money, she said. The rest is made up of an array of federal and state grants, bond proceeds and private donations.
Part of the money is going toward minor upkeep at residence halls, such as Penobscot Hall, for new flooring and fresh coats of paint.
Other projects are more lofty. In an effort to build the university’s research and development hub and draw more students, the school continues to upgrade and add facilities, Clark said.
Some of these summer projects will continue through the school year, and students will witness multimillion-dollar changes take shape throughout the year.
The Harold Alfond Sports Arena’s $4.85 million renovations are scheduled to wrap up in September, before the hockey season starts. But that project is rivaled or dwarfed by several other initiatives on campus.
The $17.5 million Offshore Wind Laboratory expansion at the Advanced Structures and Composites Center, across from Neville Hall, received its certificate of occupancy in the spring, and employees have been working there throughout the summer.
The 37,000-square-foot addition officially opens in November and will begin testing the strength and flexibility of 100-foot-plus wind turbine blades soon after. The lab can test a blade as long as 230 feet.
Crews used 10.5 million pounds of concrete during construction of the expansion.
The project was funded by a $12.5 million grant from the National Institute of Standards and Technology. The Maine Technology Institute picked up the difference, so no UMaine funds went toward the project, Clark said.
The lab will install a one-third-scale turbine two miles south of Monhegan Island in July 2012, according to Tom Perkins, manager of that project. Perkins said the plan is to have a full-scale wind farm in the Gulf of Maine by 2016.
The Advanced Structures and Composites Center also has produced products such as the Bridge in a Backpack and blast-resistant tents and buildings.
This is the sort of innovation such new facilities are supposed to foster, Clark said.
The university wants, and expects, to produce more new research and technology with a $9.3 million project to create a new media hub on campus at the former site of Stewart Dining Commons.
Stewart Commons closed in 2007 after the university consolidated its dining services.
Now the building has been stripped of asbestos-ridden ceiling and flooring tiles and is ready for a new beginning as the university’s home for the new media department.
The facility will feature computer labs, 3-D printing capabilities, sound stages, audio mixing labs and art gallery space, all with high-end equipment, according to Owen Smith, director of the department.
“This is going to be really state-of-the-art,” Smith said. “It will be as good as any university facility in the country.”
Funding for these renovations came from a $3.79 million Maine Technology Asset Fund grant, a $2 million energy savings grant and an $800,000 donation from Bank of America, Clark said. The balance came from campus funds and general obligation bonds.
The building is scheduled to be completed in the fall of 2012.
A $3.8 million project is under way at Nutting Hall, home to the College of Natural Sciences, Forestry and Agriculture, to improve the building’s facade and upgrade energy and mechanical systems in the building.
In all the work going on at the university this summer, Clark said, the university has “focused heavily on energy saving.”
New buildings on campus are Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED-, certified, she said. Natural gas service has expanded on campus and now provides energy to Libby Hall, the campus service building, the Keyo Building and Mahaney Dome. The AEWC expansion and Alfond Arena also will be hooked up to natural gas lines.
The steam plant is replacing existing steam lines, installing two new high-efficiency boilers and other more efficient equipment — a $2.76 million project expected to wrap up in December. Campus funds and a $700,000 grant from Efficiency Maine Trust will pay for the project.
Clark said renovations and the research opportunities they produce “promise to create an entirely new source of business and revenue for the state.”
The university has tried to be frugal with its funding and grants in planning these upgrades, Clark said.
“The university doesn’t take any funding source for granted,” she said. “Every cent is put to maximum use. That’s how we need to do business in these times.”