The University of Southern Maine marked the opening of its first on-campus Portland residence hall and newest parking garage Tuesday, calling the new construction a turning point for the university.

“This 580-bed residential hall will transform the campus, creating a hub for students from USM, Maine Law, and SMCC, solidifying Portland's reputation as a college town and USM as the hub,” said USM President Jacqueline Edmondson in a statement.

The 210,000-square-foot, Portland Commons has 580 beds in 385 units. The building, wrapped in floor-to-ceiling glass, looks over Bedford Street. It is projected to use less than half the energy of a standard modern building.

The new parking garage features approximately 500 parking spaces, 58 Level Two electric vehicle charging spots, and long-term secure storage for more than 250 bicycles.

The cost of the project -- $74 million for Portland Commons and $23.5 for the new parking garage -- were funded through revenue bonds approved by the University of Maine System in 2020.

"Portland Commons is a transformative addition to the student experience at USM,” said Dominic Barraclough, Interim Vice President for Student Affairs and Vice Provost for Academic Affairs. “Undergraduates will now have a living experience in Portland to aspire toward during their first two years, and graduate students will have a place to live and find community and support while they complete their degrees.”

Edmondson noted that the new dormitory represents a big step for the city, not just the school. 

“By establishing the first residence hall in Portland, the University of Southern Maine elevates the city’s stature as a college town,” she said. 

The university isn’t finished with the Portland campus. Witham said the school has already broken ground on a center for the arts. Expected to open in 2025, the center will include a performance hall, art gallery, and workspace for musicians and artists.  

Witham said the university wants to do more with its Portland campus, to better complement its Gorham and Lewiston campuses. The new dormitory, he said, will boost the school’s campus housing by 50%, but even students housed in Portland will still be attending classes in Gorham. 

“We’re not shifting the focus (away from Gorham),” he said. “We just always thought the Portland campus was underutilized.” 

On Tuesday, students were already moving into the new building. One of them was Aman Zunser, 20. A sports communications major, he is a junior at the school, and spent his first two years living on the school’s Gorham campus. 

He said the new dorm is “very modern,” and after growing up in Lyman, he preferred the urban vibe of living on the Portland campus. 

“The atmosphere feels a lot different,” he said.

With reporting by Sean Murphy.