Bates’ financial investment in Lewiston-Auburn community projects could be a farsighted move, writes President Harward.
By Donald W. Harward
Building a Case for Lewiston–Auburn Investment
Two years ago, I discussed in this space the College’s involvement with LA Excels, a community-based project of revitalization and aspiration for Lewiston and Auburn. I want to share with you the progress made, as well as the nature of what may be Bates’ future involvement.
LA Excels has been a true collaboration—a distinctive and successful example of civic entrepreneurship—a partnership with citizen and local interests. College initiatives, especially student and faculty involvement in service-learning, have led Bates’ reassertion of its sense of place and its responsibility to the community. We have also seen how Bates’ self-interest is served by working with the community. Students, parents, Trustees, and many staff and faculty understand Bates’ future successes in the context of the viability of Lewiston–Auburn and the College’s involvement with the cities to address such areas as affordable urban housing, cultural opportunities, a quality environment, economic restoration, and educational aspirations.
As we look to the College’s future, our investment in projects that the community has defined as truly transformative could be among our most farsighted decisions. Investment in the community (by loans or “last dollar” commitments on a case-by-case basis) could bring as much future success to Bates as any of our strategic initiatives.
Currently, Bates makes a $25,000 annual contribution to the operating expenses of LA Excels and offers it space on campus and operational support. Bates has also opened doors to foundations and private resources; grants received from the Libra Foundation, the DLF Foundation, the Mellon Foundation, the Lila Wallace–Reader’s Digest Fund, and the Council for the Advancement of Private Higher Education now total nearly $3 million—much of it directed to leveraging the educational aspirations of Lewiston–Auburn children.
In January, LA Excels established the Lewiston–Auburn Civic Leadership Institute. A CAPHE grant now supports Bates student and faculty researchers in addressing specific, practical, but previously unexamined aspects of community (e.g., the environmental impact of redeveloping an industrial site).
Recently, the Mellon Foundation honored my Bates presidency by making a multi-year gift to the College to support an Office of College and Community Collaboration. Establishing such an entity, without additional costs to the College, will provide coherent leadership and commitment to LA Excels during the years of presidential transition. This will assure Bates’ involvement and give a new president time to determine, in conversation with the campus, what the next iteration of College–community interaction should be and what role the president will have in carrying it forward.
Advised by the National Development Council in New York City and by Coastal Enterprises Inc. in Maine, an LA Excels Development Corporation, a subsidiary of LA Excels, has been formed with the legal and financial authority to make investments, negotiate contracts, and to seek Þnancing for the several identified projects that have emerged from the community process. (You may wish to see www.bates.edu/laexcels for more thorough presentations of the projects.) They include urban housing revitalization for mixed income and mixed age levels; an arts and culture “envelope,” featuring an arts education center and a performing arts facility; a riverside conference and technology center; improved environmental ambience, including green corridors, pedestrian and bicycle pathways, and connected open spaces; and improved transportation resources—with the possibility of train service to Portland, Boston, and Montreal.
To help to make investments a reality, the LA Excels Development Corporation will establish a “last dollar” fund. This fund will have a significant capacity to leverage additional financial resources—as has happened in New London, Hartford, West Philadelphia, Providence, and many other revitalized communities.
There is no one economic engine in Lewiston–Auburn sufficient to drive the development process LA Excels describes. Bates, however, is one of the community’s leading resources and could be a part of a collective community-development effort—in addition to maintaining its role of opening foundation and agency doors. To this end, the Bates Board of Trustees will consider this year whether, to what extent, and how it will designate additional resources to the LA Excels projects. Having the board consider such a commitment will be only part of the picture. To be successful, broad and persisting support from Bates’ students, faculty, staff, and alumni, as well as board leadership, will continue to be needed.
Certainly, any commitment of our limited resources for LA Excels projects stretches the College’s capacity. We cannot meet unlimited priorities or expectations. Nevertheless, the Bates board will consider whether we must take a step now of investing in the community and thereby helping to leverage the resources necessary to implement transforming community projects.
Direct financial investments in the community have been part of the College’s history for many years (e.g., Bates has paid for public street improvements and the strengthening of the water and energy infrastructure in the area neighborhood; the College has supported purchasing from local suppliers; and Bates has been one of the area’s largest employers and local income generators). In addition to sustaining these efforts, what we ask of ourselves now may be translated into a commitment of resources that will help to make possible future community and College aspirations. During the remainder of this winter and spring, the Board of Trustees will be considering this issue—even as the College continues its academic and institutional achievements, and launches the most significant effort at fund raising in its history.
Any commitment must reflect the fact that the College cannot be the bank for the Lewiston–Auburn renaissance—as well as the truth that of all the area institutions (commercial, as well as tax-exempt) Bates is unique in its quality and its financial security. At issue will be our understanding of how the College’s future is connected to the community’s—and to the success of the community in its own vitalization.
A decision to invest could be an expression of our responsibility and good will, as well as a decision that serves the College’s own long-term best interests. But before any decision is made, the board and other parts of the Bates community must see a compelling case and have the opportunity to consider specific options.
I look forward to the contexts in which we can explore and discuss the issues; and, as always, I welcome your comments.
Comments to President Harward can be sent by e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or postal mail (2 Andrews Rd., Lewiston ME 04240). Rebecca Conrad ’82 (email@example.com) serves as executive director of LA Excels.