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  • Bigelow Laboratory awarded $3.1 million for student and visiting scientist residence

    By Ramona du Houx

    Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences, an independent not-for-profit research institution on the coast of Maine, conducts cutting-edge research ranging from microbial oceanography to large-scale ocean processes that affect the global environment. The laboratory’s research, education, and enterprise programs are spurring significant economic growth in the state.

    As a leader in innovation people come from all over the world to connect with the laboratory. Bigelow's educational programs serve high school students from every county in Maine, undergraduate students from across the U.S., professional short course attendees, and visiting scientists from around the globe. With Bigelow's programs growing there became a need for more housing. 

    That's why on January 5, 2016, the Harold Alfond Foundation announced a $3.1 million award to Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences for construction of a 32-bed student and visiting scientist residence with four visitor’s apartments on the Laboratory’s East Boothbay Campus. 

    “We are both honored and delighted that the Harold Alfond Foundation has recognized the value of the Laboratory’s education programs by offering its generous support, making it possible for us to house students and visitors safely and comfortably on site while participating in our many educational and collaborative research programs,” said Graham Shimmield, executive director of Bigelow Laboratory. “It will allow us to expand our educational programs so more students and professionals have access to our world-class scientists.”

    An anonymous donor has matched the award, allowing the project to break ground in April 2016.  A separate endowment has been established to cover maintenance and operating costs of the new facility for 50 years.

    "This is exactly the type of project that the Harold Alfond Foundation likes to support," said Greg Powell, chairman of the Harold Alfond Foundation Board of Trustees. "Bigelow Laboratory's new residence met or exceeded all of our requirements.  The project is entrepreneurial in that it will allow the Laboratory to expand its educational offerings to not only students but to professionals, which, in turn, will help ensure economic growth for the Laboratory and the region. The project is rock solid financially and matched by a generous donor. Plus, it will be overseen by a great management team at Bigelow Laboratory, who have great vision and optimism for the state of Maine."

    The new 15,000 square-foot dormitory residence will overlook the Damariscotta River on the Laboratory’s East Boothbay campus and will be a short walk from the main Laboratory building and its shore facility. Energy efficiency, ease of maintenance, and respect for the surrounding environment embody the design.

    The ground floor will be below grade to accommodate the natural slope of the landscape, creating a courtyard surrounded by ledge or a “natural amphitheater” in the upper area. A partial green roof will help absorb rainwater, provide insulation, and help create an aesthetically pleasing natural look for the structure.

    A mixture of glass, natural wood, aluminum, and preformed concrete construction materials will promote longevity and easy maintenance, while allowing the building to blend into the wooded acreage of the waterfront site. A 75 kW array of photovoltaic cells will provide energy to meet all electric needs of the residence, including heating and ventilation. Windows, doors, and insulation will all be energy efficient and provide maximum R-value rating.

    “We are striving for a Net Zero Energy building,” added Shimmield. “Since inhabiting our energy-efficient laboratory space that opened in December 2012, we personally understand how efficient energy use and construction goes a long way toward making a building pleasant to be in, and we are sure the same will hold true for the students and guests in the new residence.” 

    The two-story structure will have 8 double bedrooms on each floor that can be flexibly arranged to accommodate guests numbering from 8 to 32. It also will provide a communal student kitchen and social area, adaptable meeting space that can serve dual functions as an auditorium or recreation area, and fitness and laundry areas.

    Two adjacent wings will contain three studio apartments with kitchen, bedroom, and bath to accommodate visiting scientists and other guests, and a two-bedroom apartment to house visitors with families.

    Scott Simons Architects of Portland, Maine designed the building. The Portland office of Consigli Construction Company, Inc. is providing construction management services.

     

  • Ramona du Houx: No more tax shifts

    Ramona du Houx
     
    Columns & Analysis | 
    Sunday, February 1, 2015

    Cutting taxes, most everyone would agree, could be a great idea. But how do you go about it without placing more of burden on the middle class?

    Not with Gov. Paul LePage’s plan.

    While LePage is trying to tackle the issue, his plan is focused on benefiting the top 2 percent. With his proposal those earning $50,000 to $175,000 will be taxed at the highest tax rate. And those earning about $10,000 to $50,000 would pay the same tax rate as the top 2 percent.

    So a schoolteacher earning $26,000 will pay the same rate as a successful investment banker who would get a 2.2 percentage-point cut to his tax rate. With the elimination of the estate tax, the top 2 percent will see a boon.

    LePage already cut the tax rate for the wealthiest. This is the second round and, again, the middle class will carry the burden. But then he plans to stop sending funding to municipalities for essential services. This cost-shifting will end up, as it has been, in property tax increases.

    When LePage was Waterville’s mayor, he ranted against any mention of cutting revenue sharing. Oh, the costs that shifting circumstances have on some politicians.

    What will hurt people daily is the sales tax increase to 6.5 percent. While I love going to the movies, I do not relish paying an expanded sales tax for my ticket. People will have to pay sales tax to have their hair done, go to a concert or visit a museum. Just to get the snow removed, hire an accountant or lawyer, or get a tow to the mechanic will cost people that sales tax increase.

    That tax plan is backward.

    Back in 2009, then-Gov. John Baldacci and Democratic lawmakers came up with a similar plan. The big difference was that the plan did not stop revenue sharing, increase property taxes or cut back on essential services. Yet it cut taxes for all tax-paying citizens, eliminating them for the less fortunate.

    But real tax relief for all never happened, as the right wing ad factory led the public to believe they would be paying a lot more because of sales taxes.

    A recent analysis by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy evaluated the local tax burden in every state. According to the study, in 2015, the poorest fifth of Americans will pay on average 10.9 percent of their income in state and local taxes; the middle fifth will pay 9.4 percent; and the top 1 percent will average 5.4 percent.

    From the report: “States and localities have regressive systems because they tend to rely more on sales and excise taxes, which are the same rate for rich and poor alike. Even property taxes, which account for much of local tax revenue, hit working- and middle-class families harder than the wealthy because their homes often represent their largest asset.”

    This ideological battle is being waged across the nation and involves the right wing promoting the economics of austerity over investing in people and programs in innovation that can grow the economy.

    Baldacci had it right. He consolidated administrations from school districts to branches of state government. He got the prison system to work together, and stopped agencies from duplicating work, all while getting bond initiatives passed that would go on to help research and development — the type of research that led to the University of Maine’s breakthroughs in bio-fuels and composite technologies.

    Maine’s innovative technologies began to really take off after 2007 with voter-approved bonds. The $50 million investment became known as the Maine Technology Asset Fund and nourished growing sectors of high-wage jobs.

    The funds were rewarded on a competitive basis. The recipients of the fund’s grants secured more than $80 million in matching funds. A 2011 evaluation of Maine’s research and development investments found that those 29 projects, that were granted funding by mid-2011, had directly created 289.5 jobs and preserved 303 in traditionally higher-paying sectors. Nineteen of those projects led to the creation of a new product or service.

    It is interesting to note that the MTAF hasn’t received any new funding since 2010.

    Maine's community colleges also received bond funding for their expansions, which has enabled thousands to get good-paying jobs

    Cutting taxes for the top 2 percent has not yielded jobs for Maine, or the nation. Meanwhile, America has experienced job growth for more than four years with Obama’s policies.

    Maine has been held back because of the trickle-down economic mantra LePage follows.

    Ramona du Houx is a published author and has written about Maine politics for 10 years. She is co-owner of Polar Bear & Company publishing and owns the news magazine Maine Insights. She lives in Solon.