Saco, Maine (May 23, 2019) —The Ecology School received a $8,660,000 loan from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development’s Community Facilities Direct Loan and Guaranteed Loans program to build one of the most sustainable residential environmental learning centers in the United States in Saco, Maine. This is the largest Community Facilities Loan the USDA Rural Development has made to an educational facility in Maine within the past decade. The Ecology School, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, will utilize the funding to facilitate construction of a 9,000 sq. ft. dormitory and 7,000 sq. ft. dining commons on a small farmyard section of River Bend Farm, the school’s 105-acre property bordering the Saco River.
Maine’s congressional delegation and their staff have been steadfast supporters of The Ecology School and advocates for USDA funding of the School's project at River Bend Farm. “For more than 20 years, The Ecology School has been committed to teaching future generations about our natural environment and the responsibility we all have to protect it,” said Maine Senator Susan Collins and Senator Angus King in a joint statement. “This important funding will allow The Ecology School to improve and expand their campus and continue to provide meaningful environmental education opportunities to students from Maine and beyond.” Congresswoman Chellie Pingree added, “Since 1998, The Ecology School has taught the next generation about our environment and how we can work to protect it. I’m glad to see the USDA making a significant investment in The Ecology School’s expansion so our students can continue to be stewards of the environment through conservation and sustainability.”
The Ecology School’s new buildings will adhere to the strict guidelines of The International Living Futures Institute’s Living Building Challenge, a green building certification program and sustainable design framework that visualizes the ideal for the built environment. “Living buildings” are designed to give more to the environment than they take, creating a positive impact on the human and natural systems that interact with them. From installing over 700 solar panels and utilizing locally-sourced lumber, to permaculture landscaping and a working agroecology farm, these features and many more on the campus at River Bend Farm will lead the way in modeling livable sustainability and conservation practices for Maine and beyond.
Within the next five years, during Phase Two of growth, The Ecology School’s entire campus at River Bend Farm—including renovations to the historic 1794 farmhouse and 1840 barn—will seek certification through The International Living Future Institute’s Living Community Challenge program. Currently, The Ecology School is the first organization in the world to submit a Master Plan for this program. Plans for the Living Building Challenge and Living Community Challenge were developed by a collaborative of Maine architecture and landscape design firms Kaplan Thompson Architects, Briburn, Scott Simons Architects, and Richardson & Associates. Zachau Construction has been named the general contractor for the project.
"The Ecology School is excited to begin construction this summer on the River Bend Farm project as we create one of the most sustainable residential environmental learning centers in the country. Our mission, since 1998, has been to guide and inspire our program participants to explore Maine’s ecosystems, uncover the science-based connections that exist throughout nature, and to use these connections to make healthier choices for themselves and the environment. From sharing our own farm grown meals to reading the environmental landscape, we seek to transform the way we, as humans, interact with the world around us. Our River Bend Farm campus will be an innovative and visionary home to facilitate this bold transformation in how we live and learn," said Drew Dumsch, President and CEO of The Ecology School.
In addition to funding from the USDA, the project is supported by CEI through a bridge loan to purchase River Bend Farm in 2017, commercial construction financing from Camden National Bank, and over $1.7 million in generous contributions including lead gifts from the Daniel E. Offutt, III Charitable Trust and Jane's Trust among many others. The Ecology School will be raising additional funding during its year-long Capital Campaign.
About The Ecology School
The Ecology School is a 501(c)3 non-profit, inspiring stewardship of and connection to the natural world through experiential learning in ecology, conservation, farming, and sustainability. Since 1998, The Ecology School has brought innovative ecology education programs to over 185,000 program participants throughout New England and nationwide. We accentuate the magic, mystery, and wonder of nature so that students can better understand and care for the environment. While construction at The Ecology School’s permanent home— one of the country’s most sustainable residential environmental learning centers— takes place in 2019/2020 at River Bend Farm, the School’s programming is temporarily located at Poland Spring Resort in Poland, Maine. Learn more at TheEcologySchool.org.
Caitlin Brooke, Marketing Manager
(207) 283-9951 (office), (207) 838-0984 (mobile)