If you’ve been on campus for the past two weeks, you might have noticed the large fenced–off area located to the right of Folger Library. The area blocks off the entire side street that many students use to access other locations on campus. This portion of campus is one I walk through often and is very noticeable from the mall. The fence encompasses all of Coburn and Holmes Halls, two buildings that have been vacant since 2009.
In July of 2021, the University of Maine System Trustees voted to turn these two halls into an on-campus boutique hotel.
The hotel is projected to be completed by summer of 2023, so a majority of the students currently on campus will still be students when guests start to arrive.
The first question that comes to mind when considering a hotel on-campus is parking for the guests. If you ask any student or even faculty member on campus to voice their opinion on parking at UMaine, most would say it is limited and difficult to find parking, especially during peak times. Considering the spaces around Coburn and Holmes, I have trouble imagining where the university is planning to have these hotel guests park.
The largest parking lot near the halls would be the Steam Plant parking lot, which is already normally packed with residential parking, especially during winter parking bans. If this were to be turned into parking for the hotels, UMaine might be forced to significantly limit the amount of students that are able to bring vehicles on campus.
The other concern is foot traffic. Coburn and Holmes Hall are located in the middle of campus, near the mall, Fogler Library and right next to Alumni Hall. During the academic year, especially during class changes, the campus is packed with students. When thinking of a hotel, it’s not unreasonable to think of people constantly coming and going, which could significantly increase foot traffic on campus.
Although it is uncertain what the boutique hotel clientele will look like, I imagine it will be busiest for hockey and football games. It will be interesting to see how having families staying on campus will play into the already packed campus on game days.
Overall, I understand that the university wants to do something with the buildings because they have been vacant for so long, but these buildings also have a lot of history that not many students know about.
Both halls were designed by the renowned architect Frank E. Kidder and are two of the oldest buildings on campus. Coburn Hall used to house a natural history museum, a library and classrooms. How will this history be preserved by converting it to hotel rooms?
The idea of having two buildings turned into hotels right in the heart of campus is somewhat overwhelming and confusing and there is a lot to unpack and question. And most of those questions don’t have concrete answers.