The Ecology School has begun construction at the 105-acre Riverbend Farm property at 184 Simpson Road in north Saco. A dormitory and dining hall are in the works, with completion expected in 2020. Liz Gotthelf/Journal Tribune File Photo

SACO — The Ecology School, a pioneer and leader in environmental education, has begun construction on what will become the most sustainable building in the Northeast, according to a press release. The construction is taking place at The Ecology School’s new home at River Bend Farm, an historic 105-acre farm on the Saco River in Southern Maine.

The new campus for The Ecology School will include a 9,000-square-foot dormitory and 7,000-square-foot dining commons using more than 200,000 board feet of local Maine wood. To support the project’s goal of producing 105 percent net positive energy, the buildings will contain 718 solar panels. Additionally, the campus will include a non-combustion, all electric-powered kitchen. The campus will also feature permaculture landscaping, a working agroecology farm, and other “live what you learn” educational assets built to the specifications of The Living Building Challenge 3.1 certification, the world’s most rigorous building performance standard.

“What started out as a dream — our very own green campus on the banks of the beautiful Saco River — is now becoming a reality,” said Drew Dumsch, president/CEO and founder, The Ecology School. “Upon completion, The Ecology School will be the most sustainable building in the Northeast, offering not only experiential programming but also modeling conservation-in-action.”

The Ecology School is a nonprofit ecology education center for students of all ages to learn by their natural inclinations, engaging in all five senses to discover the inner workings of the world around them. Through hands-on, experiential programming students learn to become stewards of the environment as they explore local forests, fields, and food systems. Since 1999, The Ecology School has hosted more than 185,000 students and teachers from across the country, educating them about nature, connecting them to the environment, and teaching them about our impact on the planet.

Created by the International Living Future Institute, or ILFI, in 2014, the Living Building Challenge, or LBC, is the most comprehensive of green building certifications, exceeding the rating program of US Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, as well as Passive House Institute. The new gold standard for green construction, LBC certification is awarded to buildings that not only cause minimal impact to the environment, but also improve it, and are regenerative in nature.


According to the Living Building Challenge, a “living building” is one that connects occupants to light, air food, nature and community; is self-sufficient and remains within the resource limits of its site; and creates a positive impact on the human and natural systems that interact with it. Certification is based on actual — not anticipated — performance conducted by an independent auditor 12 months following construction. The Ecology School is pursuing Full Living Certification, the highest LBC certification possible meeting all seven “petals” of criteria. To date, only 25 Full Living Certifications have been awarded in the world.

“The Ecology School could not fulfill our vision for this project alone,” Dumsch said. “We are grateful to our partner businesses, true catalysts in green building, who are driven by best practices in sustainability and a love of Maine’s natural beauty. Our partners are continually demonstrating their commitment to our new River Bend Farm home. Together, we will help heal people and the planet.”

Green building partners include Kaplan Thompson Architects, Briburn, Scott Simon Architects, Richardson & Associates, ReVision Energy, Zachau Construction and Hancock Lumber.

“With The Ecology School, we are breaking ground–literally and figuratively–on our most impressive collaboration to date,” said Jesse Thompson, principal, Kaplan Thompson Architects. “Together, we’ll attain Full Living Building Challenge’s highest certification, becoming one of fewer than 25 buildings in the world to earn this prestigious honor. We are pleased to collaborate with The Ecology School and other green building partners to make this super green campus come to fruition, right here at home in Maine.”

Earlier this year, The Ecology School was awarded a $8.7 million loan from the USDA Rural Development’s Community Facilities Direct Loan and Guaranteed Loans program to build its new campus. This is the largest community facilities loan granted to an educational facility in Maine within the past decade.

In addition, the River Bend Farm project is supported by CEI through a bridge loan, construction financing from Camden National Bank, and a capital campaign with a goal of $2.9 million, of which 2.36 million has already been raised. The Ecology School is looking for partners who believe in the next generation of climate-focused leaders. For more information, or to make a contribution, please visit:

The Ecology School is a nonprofit ecology education center. It provides hands-on, experiential programming to students of all ages learn as they explore local forests, coastal ecosystems, and food systems. Learn more at and follow The Ecology School @theecologyschool on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

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