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The First Living Building Challenge Building in Maine

The Ecology School in Saco tackles a daunting building certification program

Three linked buildings along a line of trees will become a 9,000-square-foot dormitory with 144 beds for The Ecology School in Saco, Maine. Construction should be complete by November on the first Living Building Challenge project in Maine. All photos courtesy Scott Gibson unless otherwise noted.

The expected completion this fall of a new home for The Ecology School in Saco, Maine, will not only mark a big step for the school but also the first Living Building Challenge project in the state and one of only about two dozen in the world.

A 9,000-square-foot dormitory is well underway, and a nearby 7,200-square-foot commons is beginning to take shape, part of a $14 million project that will transform a former horse farm called River Bend Farm into a new, year-round home for the 20-year-old school.

By late June, Drew Dumsch, the school’s 52-year-old CEO and president, could at last start to see the payoff of years of planning, fund-raising, and a thorough immersion in the requirements of the Living Building Challenge, what is probably the most daunting building certification program on the planet. Dumsch, the school’s board and staff, and the architects and builders who pulled it all together won’t even know for at least another year whether they have been successful in meeting all of the requirements for certification. But they’ve moved the school from rented facilities to what will be a state-of-the-art campus despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. And for Dumsch, the tenets of the Living Building Challenge, the continued need for ecological education, and the current health crisis all seem to come together.

“The Ecology School helps people understand and embrace change,” Dumsch said in a recent interview at the school. “The pandemic, as horrible as it is with the effect it’s had on people’s psyches and the economy and unemployment and all of that, gives us a chance to re-imagine the future, to do a reset. The pandemic has given us a sped up version in just a matter of months of what climate change, unaddressed, will do over…

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  1. Expert Member
    RICHARD EVANS | | #1

    Great Article!

    The original roof line was a masterpiece. The ridge forms a perfectly straight line across the three staggered buildings. This feature should have been kept at all cost. Sacrifice the foundation if you must! :-)

    1. Christopher Briley | | #3

      Thanks Rick!

      The way it's captioned it sounds like credit for that roof line is given to me, but it was an office effort here at Briburn. In fact I recall that it was Hans Breaux here in our office that first sketched that 'continuous-across-three-buildings-at-different-angles' roof line. We all loved it and worked it through preliminary design.

  2. dcjohn | | #2

    ‘But PVC plumbing was out, too, and the substitution process sheds some light on the thinking behind the Red List: It’s a way to force a change in the marketplace.

    “They say, ‘Yes, cast iron is a little more expensive,’” Thompson said, “‘but what we’re trying to do is drive down the cost of the healthy thing. So we want all of you to buy that thing that right now is more expensive to make it cheaper.’“

    How will increased demand for a resource-intensive product like cast iron drive down its price?

    Does this sort of logic pervade the whole list?

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