After receiving final authorization from the University of Maine System Board of Trustees on Monday, the University of Maine at Presque Isle plans to initiate an official request for proposals process in the coming weeks in order to select a buyer for the Houlton Higher Education Center.
UMPI plans to sell or transfer ownership of the 15,662-square-foot building to a community partner with an aligned mission, and will retain space for office, teaching, and technology purposes in order to best support the educational needs of southern Aroostook County and surrounding areas.
“Our overarching goal has long been to continue providing educational opportunities in the region within a more sustainable business model,” UMPI President Ray Rice said. “We’re pleased to have made it to this step in the process and look forward to finalizing a selection later this spring.”
Prompting this transition of ownership is a major drop in tuition revenue at the Houlton Center in the last five years and an expanding amount of underutilized space in the building as students increasingly seek out online classes over in-person learning.
UMPI began an informal process last summer to identify potential partnership configurations that would ensure the long-term sustainability of the Houlton Center, which has served the region for more than two decades. About 20 groups were identified and offered the opportunity to put forward recommendations for ownership, lease, and use of the building, resulting in six recommendations from local businesses and nonprofit organizations.
“That gave UMPI a good sense of different use types for the building in the future,” Betsy Sawhill Espe, UMPI’s Chief Business Officer, said. “ Our conclusion was that, whatever happens in the future, it really needs to be an educational/nonprofit use and that’s the RFP that we’ll be putting forth.”
The BOT authorization allows UMPI to transfer or sell the center to a third party with a five-year carve out for office space and shared teaching space, as well as a permanent carve out for technology currently located in the building. Technology and equipment at the site owned by the University of Maine System and State of Maine provides connectivity for all educational institutions and others in northern and eastern Maine.
Sawhill Espe explained that the five-year carve out, which would be the amount of time that UMPI would not pay a lease, would be for a minimum of five years but could be a much longer time frame, depending on what appears in the proposals received. The option to lease indefinitely will be built into the transfer of ownership agreement. Something else that will be built into the agreement is a restriction in ownership: the property cannot be used as a grocery store, market for any food sales, or any kind of pharmacy.
“We’ve seen a significant decline in participation at the Houlton Center and don’t know whether that will continue or will grow back,” Sawhill Espe said. “If it grows back significantly over the next several years, we’ll be able to support that with the space we want to use through the agreement we finalize.”
To read the full details of the University of Maine System Board of Trustees’ decision to authorize this property sale or transfer of ownership, view the press release.
Established in 2001, the Houlton Higher Education Center has been providing educational opportunities to the people of southern Aroostook County, northern Penobscot County, eastern Washington County, western New Brunswick, Canada, and beyond. Administered by UMPI, the Houlton Center houses five additional educational partners, including the University of Maine at Augusta at Houlton, University of Maine Cooperative Extension, Northern Maine Community College, the Houlton/Hodgdon Adult & Community Education Program, and TRIO (Upward Bound, Talent Search, and Maine Education Opportunity Center). Through UMPI, the Center also hosts High School Aspirations, aimed at increasing the number of students who access and succeed in college. In addition, the Center hosts an array of others who spend one or two days a week in the space supporting students’ educational needs.