Colby staff move to new downtown offices

As of August 17, some Colby staff have moved downtown into the Hains building, marking the first official transition of College staff off-campus.

Colby purchased the Hains building in 2015 for $220,000, shortly after purchasing the Levine building, at 9 Main St., for $200,000. The buildings were the first major procurements of the Waterville Revitalization Project, which a few years later has already made visible changes to downtown Waterville and provided a source of relief for the city’s dwindling tax base. The building has remained on the city’s tax rolls, despite Colby’s nonprofit status—a decision reflective of Colby’s commitment to community.

About 15 employees working in advancement, research, and gift processing, as well as museum staff are now housed in the Hains building. Other employees are encouraged to take advantage of its resources, including a conference room and and training site for human resources.

The move has been well received by employees, many of whom will park on campus and take the shuttle downtown. The shuttle is open to both students and staff, although the back-and-forth trips are conducted at a fairly modest frequency (about once every 45 minutes.) Once the student apartments downtown are complete, more frequent shuttles will be added, a change likely to improve the Colby-Waterville connection for students and staff alike.

“It stood about three decades derelict before the purchase,” Vice President of Planning Brian Clark said. “It’s a beautiful old building, and after a five-and-a-half million renovation, it’s going to be a high tech center.” In fact, the 108-year-old downtown building was added to the Maine’s Most Endangered Historic Resources list in 2012; Colby’s efforts removed it.

The building on 173 Maine Street is affectionately known as the Hains Building. “In Maine, buildings are always named for the previous owner,” noted Clark. It’s a cultural oddity that he of all people would know; Clark is intimately aware of the culture, families, and businesses of downtown Waterville.

Clark worked with President Greene in Strategic Initiatives during his time at the University of Chicago, when both were tasked with uplifting the local economy and strengthening connections between student and community.

Clark’s current project at Colby is the Colby-Waterville Partnership. The project aims to increase economic activity, generating new jobs and attracting investors. The Administration hopes it will create a stronger sense of place and a better environment for pedestrians and visitors.

The project has been spearheaded by Greene since his arrival at Colby. Progress is visible, with the Hains building now occupied and construction of the hotel and mixed-use development underway expected to open in 2018. The Hains building and the student apartmen will have retail space on the ground floor, and the hotel on the Levine’s site will have a public restaurant and bar.

It’s only fitting historically that Colby staffers are headed back downtown. Founded in 1813, Colby College was originally in downtown Waterville but moved to Mayflower Hill in the early 1940s to expand the campus. The Waterville community was eager to keep the College within reach, and a citizens committee found the Mayflower Hill location and raised $107,270 from more than 600 donors to purchase it. Colby has been involved with the local community since the 1800s, when theological students preached at local churches. More recently Colby students spent 43,000 hours engaging with local nonprofits and agencies last year alone.

Waterville downtown has struggled in recent decades. The city lost much of what had been its manufacturing base, and many workers were forced to abandon the area. Businesses along Main Street closed. But recent revitalization has breathed life back into the town, and the Colby-Waterville Partnership will continue to take steps forward.

Even in the Hains building, new employee occupancy is only a temporary step. “Right now we are slowly moving in CGI, a tech company that will bring a lot of jobs to Waterville,” says Brian Clark.

The idea is that CGI will slowly take over the Hains building and become a new economic center in town with more than 100 employees, at which point Colby staffers will move to a new location.

“This is a step in developing economic stability,” adds Clark. “We’re working with an attainable set of goals. It’s all attainable.”