2018-06-28 / News

Plans for The Ecology School move forward

By Abigail Worthing Staff Writer

SACO– After a tumultuous site plan review process, The Ecology School has received planning board approval to move forward with its $9 million school, to be built on Simpson Road at River Bend Farm.

The school presented at two previous meetings, on May 2 and June 5, prior to the final June 19 meeting, as well as host a site walk for both the planning board and public on May 22 at River Bend Farm.

The project includes a 7,000-square-foot dining commons and three connected 4,500-square-foot dormitories.

The planning board had tabled the project at the June 5 meeting citing the need for further proof of financial support from the institutions who will fund the project, as well as a more thorough traffic analysis for Simpson Road.

At the June 19 meeting, The Ecology School presented new data from the traffic study, including slides showing the turning radius for trucks and motor coaches entering and exiting both the entrance to the property on Simpson Road as well as onto Simpson Road from Buxton Road.

The slides, presented by civil engineer John Mahoney, demonstrated that according to the additional study, the large vehicles in question would be able to make the turns without encroaching over the centerline.

Prior to the June 5 meeting, attorney John Bannon of Murray, Plumb and Murray, had sent a letter to the planning board on behalf of four Saco residents stating concerns that the letter of financial support from Saco and Biddeford Savings Institution was too vague to meet the standards set in the city’s subdivision regulation section 8.7.

This portion of the regulation states that any site plan approval requires a letter from a financial institution that affirms the intent to fund the project, and must contain a commitment, a specified amount of funds and the specific purpose and use intended for the funds.

The Ecology School came equipped with additional letters of financial support for the June 22 meeting, from Camden National Bank, Bangor Savings Bank and Coastal Enterprises Incorporated. The letters all state that they intend to provide financial support in correlation with the USDA loan that will pay for the majority of the project with a 40-year loan with a fixed interest of 3.5 percent.

Betty Olson, a commercial banking officer with Camden National Bank, was also present at the meeting to speak on behalf of the project, stating that the bank was satisfied with the financial standing of The Ecology School and would be willing to provide support once the project has received USDA funding.

According to Drew Dumsch, CEO and founder of The Ecology School, the school has been working on the loan proposal for over three years and expects approval in the near future.

The planning board had closed public comment for the topic during the June 5 meeting and chose not to reopen for additional comment during the June 22 meeting. Prior to the vote, the planning board read through the site plan line by line and made amendments where needed. The meeting closed with a unanimous vote.

The Ecology School is scheduled to break ground this fall. In a separate interview, Dumsch said he and his team were excited with the outcome of the meeting, and are ready to move forward with the project.

“We’ve been through 20 meetings with the city and now we’re very excited to finally build,” Dumsch said, “Of course, any project can hope for quicker, but this gave us a chance to look very carefully at everything and then take a second look. We really have a fantastic team.”

Dumsch also said he understands the level of scrutiny placed on the project, and that he was impressed with the rigor of the planning board.

“We’re a small nonprofit that has never owned property before, so we understand that this is a big, bold project to approve,” Dumsch said. “Not only are we ready, we have great support. We’re looking forward to year-round programming with the Saco community.”

“I believe the planning board owes the city of Saco to provide due diligence when a project merits this much attention,” said Director of Planning and Development Denise Clavette during a separate interview. “It’s wise to look at it all.

Contact Staff Writer Abigail Worthing at news@inthecourier.com.

Return to top