SACO, Maine — For more than 20 years The Ecology School in Maine has been educating kids and adults from across the country about the environment and our collective impact on the planet.
The programming has always been done at rented summer camps.
But last fall, The Ecology School, a residential environmental learning center, broke ground on its new campus in Saco—one that will take eco-friendly to a new level.
It's located at the River Bend Farm in Saco. The campus will be on 105 acres of forest land and open fields along the Saco River.
"We're really excited about the change to have our own site to be able to offer programming and conservation and farming and sustainability to folks year-round," Drew Dumsch, the President and CEO of The Ecology School, said.
There is a lot of construction going on at the new site.
"We are in the midst of building two of the greenest buildings in New England."
Dumsch says the buildings will use more than 200,000 feet of local Maine White Pine. One building being built is a 9,000 square-foot dormitory that will hold up to 140 people.
The other building will be the 7,000 square foot Poland Spring Education and Dining Commons which will house a commercial kitchen and a root cellar.
"They're going to be powered by 718 solar-powered panels on-site," Dumsch said. "Two-hundred panels on the dining hall roof and 518 below it. We'll actually be creating more electricity at River Bend Farm that we will actually use on site."
The Ecology School’s goal is to produce 105 percent net positive energy.
"Creating clean energy for the community is a big part of our goal and we're doing this non-combustion."
This means the school's commercial kitchen will be powered not by gas or oil, but by electricity produced on the farm.
Also produced on the farm will be 100 percent of their produce.
"We'll actually have a root cellar in the basement of the kitchen to store all of the potatoes, onions, and carrots we'll be growing."
The Poland Spring Education and Dining Commons was made possible by a $500,000 contribution from Poland Spring, a company that has long supported The Ecology School and its mission.
"This is just the ultimate demonstration of environmental education and our commitment to sustainability and really just supporting the communities where we live, work and play," Poland Spring Community Relations Director Heather Printup said.
"During this pandemic, we have seen the importance of local food systems, that farmers down the road are important and climate change knowing about the environment is important and how local economies that focus on people and the planet is a really important thing. People will stay at the River Bend Farm to live and learn together about conservation, farming, and sustainability," Dumsch said.
And soon they will do all of that at The Ecology School's new ultra-green home at the River Bend Farm in Saco.
Funding for the $14 million project is more than 90 percent complete.
The Ecology School is now in the public phase of its capital campaign to complete its goal and is seeking $1.2 million to complete its goal.