ORONO, Maine — A $78 million new engineering building at the University of Maine in Orono is nearly complete. Students from all eleven engineering and technology majors will be able to come and work together at the center.
The project started in May of 2020 and is expected to be completed by August 2022. It will provide state-of-the-art facilities, equipment, and classrooms for engineering students and professors.
"Engineers and computer scientists are critical. We don't have enough. This is going to allow us to increase our capacity," said Dana Humphrey, Dean of Engineering at UMaine. "This building will is going to give us the ability to take and increase our enrollment by 50%, it's going to give us that capacity!"
Currently, roughly 350 engineering students graduate per year With this new building, "we should be able to get up somewhere in the vicinity of 450 to 500," added Humphrey.
"We are not going to simply grow in size in terms of the number of students; we are also going to grow in size in terms of faculty and staff, to ensure that we still have a reasonable student to faculty ratios," said Masoud Rais-Rohani, professor and chair of mechanical engineering.
Rais-Rohani who has been teaching at UMaine for five years says they are lacking modern labs to teach the students, but the center will have those and a lot more.
Humphrey tells NEWS CENTER Maine he takes great pride in this project, in part, because 78 UMaine graduates have been involved in different phases of its creation.
He adds the 'key' to the building will be the first floor, where there will be a student project design suite, 48 workbenches, and the entire space will be surrounded by a wide variety of shops.
"We have shops for biomedical engineering, electronics, 3-D printing, a tool crib, a vehicle shop, a metal shop, a woodshop, and a composite shop," said Humphrey.
One of those alumni students is Matthew Tonello. He is Consigli Construction's Project Executive for the new UMaine Engineering center and the Director of Operations for Consigli in Maine.
"Knowing that I've been a graduate from the University of Maine, back in the early 90's, and to be able to come back and build an engineering building for the school has been absolutely amazing," said Tonello.
Consigli was hired to construct the center. The company brought specialty contractors for the different phases of the building, from mechanical, to electrical, to the foundation.
Design-wise, the center has 42,000 bricks, 3,875 cubic yards of concrete in the foundations and floor slabs, and 670 tons of structural steel.
"It's the largest project the University of Maine has built on their campus. We've been working on it a little bit over a year, we're about 75% complete!" said Tonello.
Tonello says they are pretty much enclosed and now starting interior work on the project. He says COVID did not delay construction as University of Maine officials decided to plow ahead and work with 'the new normal.' "Knowing that we would be working outside the building in unenclosed spaces for at least a year," said Tonello.
Fortunately, material prices and availability have also not been issues.
"We were able to buy the project very early in the pandemic when there was not a lot of construction being bought in the marketplace in terms of subcontractors bidding on, so it was a very opportune time to buy the job," said Tonello. "We were able to get the steel package bought before the escalation of steel prices, and we were able to buy the lumber for the project long before lumber escalations started to happen!"
The modern facility will provide students with more work and learning space and better equipment for hands-on learning. The dean of engineering says it will be the best space of its kind in the Northeast.
"They don't need to leave the state of Maine [students] to get the level of education that you are offering here in the state and I think that's very important, I think once they see the modern facilities that we have, I think that reduces the temptation that I need to leave the state in order to get a better education, that is not true, we can provide the best education that they will have here in the state," said Rais-Rohani.