Members of the Kennebunk Select Board, including Blake Baldwin and William Ward, among others, and Town Manager Mike Pardue got an update last week about the project to move the Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge headquarters and visitors center to 188 Brown St., the former Elmina Sewall property. Tammy Wells Photo

KENNEBUNK — Work to convert the vacant private home at 188 Brown Street in Kennebunk to a new headquarters and visitors center for the Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge is poised to begin in June.

That was the word from refuge Director Karl Stromayer, when he updated the Kennebunk Select Board and some municipal staff on the project on a sunny, warm October day at the property last week.

The Visitors Center and its trails and vistas — like the “Overlook” that sports a view of the Mousam River below — is expected to draw 50,000 to 60,000 people annually, said Stromayer.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service purchased the 15-acre property on Dec. 27, 2019, for $1.5 million.

The property was the home of the late Elmina Sewall, who was known for her devotion to animal welfare and the environment. Constructed 1956, the home was sold after her death in 2005. and passed through a couple of owners until the purchase by the federal government. The refuge owns land on either side of the 188 Brown St. property as well as across the street.

Stromayer told the Select Board that the property is eligible for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places.

Members of the Kennebunk Select Board recently toured the future home of the Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge at 188 Brown St. in Kennebunk and took the opportunity to view the river from the covered bridge on the property. Here, Select Board Chair Blake Baldwin and member William Ward emerge from the bridge followed by others, while refuge assistant director Ryan Kleinert looks on. Tammy Wells Photo

The conversion will include room for about 20 offices — not only for refuge staff but for those associated with the USFWS Gulf of Maine Coastal Program, which will relocate to the site from their current offices in Falmouth — as well as the Visitors Center and exhibit space. The home and buildings encompass 14,000 square feet. Stromayer told the group that construction will be accomplished in a way so as not to disturb the architectural features. A portion of the property built in later years will be demolished, with new space more harmonious to the remainder of the property constructed, he said.

“We hope to have it 100 percent solar in the next 10 years,” said Stromayer, with a view to 50 percent solar once construction is completed.

Stromayer estimated there would be 20 full-time, permanent staff and about 20 to 25 seasonal staff. The focus will remain on the refuge’s work on salt marshes, and on projects involving the New England cottontail, piping plovers and least terns.

The Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge encompasses close to 7,000 acres, all of it in York and Cumberland counties, said Stromayer and draws about 250,000 annual visitors.

The Refuge has been headquartered in Wells for many years, and management had been looking to replace the headquarters building there when the opportunity to purchase 188 Brown St. presented itself.

Select Board members toured the home, looked at some draft architectural renderings, and then walked the grounds, including pausing on the covered bridge that spans the river.

“It was awfully nice of you to choose to locate in Kennebunk,” said Town Manager Mike Pardue.

Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1966 to protect salt marshes and estuaries for migratory birds. Rachel Carson was a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service aquatic biologist and author of “Silent Spring,” which outlined the effect of pesticides on living creatures, including songbirds.

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