Maine’s Ecology School Unveils Earth-Friendly Campus

By SCN Staff

SACO, Maine—The Ecology School in Saco commemorated the completion of its regenerative green campus at River Bend Farm during a weeklong ‘Earth Week’ celebration, which included flipping the switch on 712 solar panels, a virtual message from Maine Governor Janet Mills, and COVID-safe tours of the new facility.

The pioneering campus, stretching over a historic 105-acre farm with views of the Saco River is expected to be the first location in Maine, and among only 23 in the United States, to achieve the full International Living Future Institute’s Living Building Certification (LBC), the most comprehensive green building certification in the world.

The $14.1 million project took six years of visioning, planning, and construction bringing together the state’s top green design, construction, and renewable energy leaders, including: Kaplan Thompson Architects, Briburn, Simons Architects, Richardson & Associates, ReVision Energy, Zachau Construction, and Hancock Lumber.

Maine Governor Janet Mills offered the following comment in a pre-recorded statement in advance of Earth Day: “Standing before the United Nations a year ago, I promised to the world that Maine would be carbon neutral by 2045.  That goal is aggressive, yes, but it’s also achievable because of the contributions of organizations like The Ecology School at River Bend Farm.”

Buildings that achieve LBC certification are regenerative in nature and able to successfully connect occupants to natural light, open air, food, nature, and community; they are self-sufficient and remain within the resource limits of their site; and they create a positive impact on the human and natural systems that interact with them. They also achieve excellence in key performance areas including energy, health & happiness, materials, equity, beauty, place and water.

With a 9,000-square-foot dormitory, 7,000-square-foot Poland Spring Education and Dining Commons, and solar array that will generate 105 percent net positive energy, the property represents the latest example of Maine’s—and the nation’s—progress toward a carbon-neutral future.

Despite an unprecedented year amidst a global pandemic, and a $14.1 million funding need, the construction team and staff of The Ecology School managed to maintain momentum, stay safe, realize substantial fundraising wins, and open within its estimated timeframe. The Ecology School aims to serve 12,000-15,000 participants per year, ages preschool to adult, in a combination of in-person, in-school, and online ecology programs.

In addition to the new dormitory, dining commons, and solar array, unique aspects of the ambitious campus include the following:

  • It was designed for foot traffic and not cars. Tree-line windrows divide the auto-based world from the naturally trafficked world.
  • Farmyard pathways are ADA accessible and promote universal access.
  • Rain gardens capture storm-water runoff and strategically drain to nourish farm fields below.
  • Permaculture gardens include native trees, shrubs, bushes, fruits, and vegetables.
  • New pathways and gathering areas connect to existing trail systems, inviting exploration of the surrounding property.
  • EV charging stations are available to those arriving in electric vehicles. To maintain a combustion-free campus, these are supported by a Tesla Powerwall which stores solar energy to provide battery-powered back-up rather than generator back-up.
  • The 105-acre property is under easement with Maine Farmland Trust; construction is limited to, 8.75-acre building envelope ensuring that the rest of the land is conserved for farming, education, and research.
  • 712 solar panels placed over the south-facing leach field and throughout the orchards will produce 330,000 Kwh per year, which is equivalent to removing 49.5 cars from the road each year.
  • By 2025, 100% of the produce served will come from The Ecology School’s farm or from local farms to demonstrate a sustainable food system and support Maine’s economy.
  • Significant outdoor gathering spaces and theater promote community, physical movement, and joy.