HOULTON, Maine — The University of Maine at Presque Isle is looking for a buyer for the Houlton Higher Education Center after determining that the 15,662 square foot facility in downtown Houlton is too large for its current needs.
Dwindling tuition revenues, a student preference for remote learning and financial deficits projected to keep increasing, pushed the university to seek an alternative, said Ray Rice, president of the University of Maine at Presqure Isle in a July public forum on the matter.
“There are almost no students taking classes in the building, and the university uses about 75 percent less of the space it did in 2001,” Rice said.
The Houlton Higher Education Center is one of three University of Maine System properties authorized by the board of trustees on Monday for sale in Aroostook and Penobscot Counties.
In addition to the Houlton center, UMPI is also seeking a buyer for the 9,650-square-foot Skyway Complex in Presque Isle that has been used for student and faculty housing in the past.
Additionally, four undeveloped acres in Bangor owned by the University of Maine at Augusta will be sold to the Bangor Housing Development Corp. to address the state’s need for more housing, according to a University System press release.
After receiving final authorization on Monday, UMPI plans to initiate an official request for proposals 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 building to a community partner with an educational mission, according to a press release. Although the university will retain a small space for office, teaching, and technology to support southern Aroostook County and surrounding area students.
In the July public forum, Rice announced that they were looking for partners to put forward recommendations for ownership, lease, and use of the building, resulting in six recommendations from local businesses and nonprofit organizations.
At the time Rice shared that the University of Maine System Board of Trustees must approve any proposal from a potential partner.
The Houlton Higher Education Center was created from a grassroots community group trying to bring a college education to Southern Aroostook County when the only college in the area, Ricker College, closed in 1979. Hannaford gifted the Military Street building, a previous grocery store, for the center and with a $2 million renovation it opened in 2001, offering students the opportunity to receive an associates, bachelors or masters degree from Houlton.
Monday’s board of trustees 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. The University of Maine System currently owns the technology equipment at the education center.
Terms of the new ownership agreement would include that UMPI’s five-year lease would be at no cost to the university and that the property cannot be used for a grocery store, food sales or a pharmacy, according to the terms of the Hannaford original gift.
In 2022, the UMaine System sold its interest in 16 Central St. in Bangor, which now houses the offices of Wabanaki Public Health and Wellness.
Last year, System Trustees authorized the University of Southern Maine’s sale of five properties on Chamberlain Street and Deering Avenue in Portland, which collectively are valued at more than $2.9 million and currently listed individually through F.O. Bailey Real Estate.
Additionally, the university issued a competitive RFP for the purchase, lease or alternative creative real property offers for the 32,477-square-foot Hutchinson Center in Belfast, which has not enrolled students for in-person academic programming since 2020.