SACO - Students who attend the University College Outreach Center in Saco should expect to take classes in a new location this fall, once the lease expires in August at its present facility on Saco Island.
University of Maine at Augusta received approval from the University System Board of Trustees on March 24 to relocate the University College in Saco to the Saco Valley Shopping Center, on Scammon Street, under a five-year lease.
The University College has been operating out of its facility on Island Point on Main Street in Saco since 1987 and was the first tenant in the building. According to documentation from the University of Maine System, the lease on Saco Island expires Aug. 31.
University College is now leasing an 8,718 square-foot space on Saco Island at an annual cost of about $73,476 plus utilities.
The new location measures 4,023 square feet, nearly half the size of the space on Saco Island, according to Sheri Stevens, executive director of administrative services at University of Maine Augusta. After systematically reviewing the sizes of each of its locations, University College is looking to reduce the centers, as leases expire, to save costs and to better meet the needs of its students, said Stevens.
Although moving into a new space will also require some renovations in order to meet classroom and office needs, Stevens said, $24,516 will be saved in operating costs annually.
Moving to the shopping center on Scamman Street will cost about $150,000 for renovations and another $50,000 for associated moving costs. The property owner has agreed to pay $50,000 toward the renovations, said Stevens.
“We think that it’s an opportunity for us to be in a more visible location,” with well-lit parking, said Stevens. “The current location has poor visibility, and it’s larger than we need.”
Students will have easier access to parking, too. It’s also a “good opportunity to rethink what the needs are for the center, and it’s a good opportunity to redesign the classrooms to meet the students’ needs,” according to Stevens.
Erica Watson, director of the University College in Saco, said the shopping center location is going to include technology-rich classrooms, a computer lab, a student lounge and office spaces. Despite the move, she said, students in the Saco-Biddeford region will continue to take classes on site, by interactive television, videoconference or online at all seven of the University of Maine System campuses.
“Our essential student services will remain the same and academic support services will stay the same,” said Watson.
“The location is far more visible and accessible for people,” she said.
Although the size of the building is being downsized, the number of classes won’t decrease, she said. According to Watson, the number of students who attend the University Center in Saco “hovers around 350-400 students both part time and full time.”
As technology changes, said Stevens, “student behavior has changed. This is an opportunity to create more collaborative learning spaces.”
Because many of the university’s courses are a combination of online coursework and face-to-face instruction, the smaller space at the Saco Valley Shopping Center won’t hinder students’ learning.
“The old traditional size classroom isn’t meeting the expectations of students,” Stevens said. “A lot of our students grew up with laptops, so they are accustomed to using them to learn. The face of higher education has changed. This is our opportunity to be fresh and modern.”