FALMOUTH — A plan to purchase two condominiums for a learning center and offices at Tidewater Village is moving forward after University of Maine trustees voted to fund the project.

The project has been scaled down from a $2 million new building proposed two years ago. Now, the University of Maine Cooperative Extension will purchase existing space in the Tidewater Village center and use three acres of land for demonstration gardens and landscaping.

UMaine trustees authorized $577,000 in one-time expenditure of cooperative extension funds, in addition to a $209,000 short-term loan to the extension that would be repaid from gift funds that have already been pledged by donors, contingent on the project’s approval.

In addition, $197,000 in funds donated by Tidewater Conservation Fund for fitting out two condominium units in Tidewater Village were also approved, contingent on approval from university officials.

“This is great. For half the price, we can do the same thing,” Douglas Babkirk, associate director of the cooperative extension,  said.

The proposal, which was debated by the Town Council two years ago, became contentious as the new learning center building was proposed for conservation property. The new proposal would retrofit existing buildings for the extension’s use instead of building on the conservation land.

“The land will be preserved. I’m sure the Falmouth government will be happy about that,” Babkirk said.

The Tidewater Farm Regional Learning Center project will be a collaboration between the Tidewater Conservation Foundation, the university and the Cumberland County Extension Association. The county extension office is now on the University of Southern Maine campus in South Portland and does not have access to demonstration gardens, an important part of the popular Master Gardener program the extension runs.

“Basically, we’ll be using the land there as a classroom,” Babkirk said. “For 40 years in Cumberland County, our office has never really had space to teach people. This will allow for many more public education programs.”

Emily Parkhurst can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or [email protected]

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