USM's new 385-unit dorm and student center will primarily be home to upperclass, graduate and law students.
The University of Southern Maine celebrated the opening of its first-ever residence hall in Portland on Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2023. The $74 million project also included the construction of a new campus center, dining hall and career center. Credit: Nicole Ogrysko / Maine Public

When the fall semester starts at the end of the month, many students at the University of Southern Maine will be moving into a brand new residence hall.

USM celebrated on Tuesday the opening of the Portland Commons, the university’s first-ever dorm on the city’s campus.

“Great cities are known for great universities, and nobody here can deny that Portland is a great city, a destination for people from all over the world to work, to visit and to study,” USM President Jacqueline Edmondson said Tuesday at a ribbon cutting ceremony on campus. “By establishing the first residence hall in Portland, the University of Southern Maine elevates the city’s stature as a college town.”

First-year students will continue to live on the Gorham campus. Some 580 upperclassmen, USM graduate and law students, as well as some students from Southern Maine Community College, will live in the new Portland dorm.

The $74 million project began more than two years ago. University of Maine System Chancellor Dannel Malloy said the 385-unit residence hall and adjacent student center should help attract students who want to be in “one of the hottest communities in New England.”

“I also think it’s a good contribution to the economy of Portland itself,” Malloy said in a recent interview with Maine Public. “We have a lot of students who are taking up apartments, or have been taking up apartments, that now can be returned to the traditional market.”

University officials also believe that the new residence hall and campus center contributes to the feeling of a real college campus in Portland.

“Think of summertime in Maine. The hotels are full, and they’re really expensive,” said Trish Riley, chair of the university system’s board of trustees. “Think of the opportunities that this facility will have for summer programming, and to help the communities around here with camps and all kinds of revenue-generating activities.”

The residence hall, which has views of the city and Casco Bay, is on track to be passive house certified. University officials said it’ll be the country’s second largest passive house building at a university, and among the 10 largest passive house buildings anywhere in the nation.

The new dorm is heavily insulated and has air-tight joints and a continuous thermal barrier,” said Aaron Witham, USM’s director of sustainability. The studios, single, double and four-person apartments all have energy efficient appliances and heat pumps. All told, the new dorm will use less than half the energy of a typical building.

“We estimate that the premium to build to passive house certification costs us approximately $4 million for this project, but this will be paid off in 15 years or less from utility savings,” he said. “Beyond that we will save $270,000 per year on our energy bills.”

Students will be able to control the temperature inside their own dorm rooms. The neighboring campus center and dining hall is on track to be LEED gold certified, and it was partially built with cross-laminated timber.

The neighboring campus center and dining hall is on track to be LEED gold certified, and it was partially built using cross-laminated timber.

A new parking garage across the street will have 58 level 2 electric vehicle plugs, making it the largest charging hub in Maine, Witham said.

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated the dorm was the university’s first in Portland. It is the first on the university’s Portland campus.

Maine Public writer Irwin Gratz contributed to this report.

This article appears through a media partnership with Maine Public.