Plan to close and sell Belfast Hutchinson Center is act of bad faith by University

Wed, 08/02/2023 - 11:45am

What is deeply flawed with the recent announcement by the University of Maine? Just 23 years after a visionary gift to Belfast, Maine, and the University of Maine the primary beneficiary of the gift announced the University of Maine Hutchinson Center would be closed and sold. 

To understand why the closing and proposed sale of the University Maine Hutchinson Center has caused so much upset for Belfast and area residents, one must understand the history of the Hutchinson Center and the personal stake of the Belfast area. 

The Hutchinson Center originated in an agreement between Charles Cawley, the visionary MBNA CEO, and University of Maine President Fred Hutchinson to build an educational facility through which UMO would bring classes and programs to residents of Midcoast Maine. The Center was built completely at the expense of MBNA, and all operating expenses for years were covered by MBNA. 

Built on the site of a former chicken farm, the Hutchinson Center opened in 2000 under the directorship of Dr. Jim Patterson and was an immediate success.  Participation and enrollment were robust, statewide conferences found a perfect mid-state location, special events flourished, and the Center was soon a money maker for the University. Opportunities for education and advancement for Belfast area residents were lifted dramatically. 

But things had to change with MBNA transitioning to Bank of America ownership and the retirement of Charles Cawley. The new owners with many sprawling Maine properties sought to divest themselves of real estate, and with the urging of Center supporters, BOA gifted the Center to U Maine in 2006 with the expectation that courses would be offered at the Hutchinson Center.  

The goal of MBNA and the University of Maine was to provide a complete degree program for the regional area of Belfast. The Center was built to be expanded and contained no laboratories or science classrooms. Community leaders, with the promise of support by UMO to establish a nursing program, raised the funds to build the new wing onto the Center.

U Maine began offering online courses as an alternative to in-classroom instruction. Within a few years in-person classes at the Center were no longer offered by the UME at Orono. Luckily the University of Maine at Augusta stepped in to offer a nursing program. The needs of the community are strong.

Over the years, local donors, including the City of Belfast, who had donated generously to the construction of the new wing, were let down by the lack of support by the University. 

All along the Center has been a vibrant and busy host to local and statewide conferences, events, Senior College classes, and more. 

The recent announcement that UME Orono plans to close and sell the Hutchinson Center was the final act of bad faith by the University.

The Hutchinson Center still has strong local support despite the lack of course offerings. Senior College, one of the largest and most successful in Maine, remains active; events and conferences are still committed to the Center. 

The Hutchinson Center exists because of the great generosity and vision of Charles Cawley and MBNA as well as Bank of America. Their gift to Belfast and the region was welcomed and supported by significant local fund raising, scholarship sponsorships, and other gifts which made the Hutchinson Center the facility it is today. 

The proposal by the University to sell the Center which was mostly generously gifted is unacceptable. For the University of Maine to try to capitalize financially on a gift after it failed to fulfill its mission constitutes a breach of ethics. The honorable course of action for this gift made possible by Charles Cawley, MBNA, Bank of America, and the many hundreds of public and private donors is to return this gift to the community. 

We are planning to invite the community to get involved. Please join us. 

The Future of the Belfast Hutchinson Center steering committee:

Judy Stein

Jim Patterson

Kim Fleming

Larry Theye

Mike Hurley