An artist's depiction if the inside of the proposed $13 million Center for Human Ecology building at College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor. Credit: Courtesy of College of the Atlantic

College of the Atlantic plans to start construction this spring on a new $13 million, energy-efficient building that will house science laboratories, lecture halls, faculty offices, art and design studios, and a teaching greenhouse.

Construction of the building, to be located on the north end of the college’s Bar Harbor campus overlooking Frenchman Bay, is expected to be completed by September 2020, COA officials said Monday.

The two-story, 29,000-square-foot building will be called the Center for Human Ecology and will be built to exacting energy standards, reducing energy usage by 80 percent compared to a similar building with more traditional construction designs and materials, officials said. COA, founded in 1969, has an emphasis on environmental sustainability embedded in its curriculum and operations, and has been named by The Princeton Review as the top “green” college in the country in 2016, 2017 and 2018.

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The college expanded and improved its residential facilities about a decade ago, but this project will be the first new academic building constructed at COA since the 1980s, when it had fewer than 200 students. Today, the college’s student population is strategically capped at approximately 350 in order to maintain the school’s small character.

Funds for the new building, including an endowed maintenance budget, have been raised entirely through philanthropy, according to COA. Lead gifts from trustees of the Shelby Cullom Davis Charitable Fund and trustees of the college have helped to finance the project.

Credit: Courtesy of the College of the Atlantic

“The Center for Human Ecology will exemplify the experiential model of education pioneered at College of the Atlantic, where research, mentoring, socializing, and experimentation come together to create new knowledge, new ideas, and new works, both for our island and for the world at large,” COA President Darron Collins, a 1992 graduate of the college, said in the statement. “The Center will embody our interdisciplinary mission, gathering sciences, arts, and humanities under one roof and inspiring engaged exploration for generations to come.”

A broader goal is to have the new building kick off a larger rearrangement of the campus, according to college officials. For example, the current arts and sciences building — which has the large whale skull leaning against it, near the main entrance to campus — would be rebuilt as COA’s new welcome center and would include new offices for the school’s admissions department.

Other new facilities could include an experimental theater, art gallery and propagation greenhouse. The extent to which additional phases are implemented depends on continued fundraising, COA spokesman Rob Levin said, so the college has yet to develop detailed plans about them.

The college’s trustees unanimously approved construction of the proposed building at their winter meeting on Saturday.

The architects for the project are Susan T. Rodriguez of New York City and GO Logic of Belfast, Maine. E.L. Shea, Inc. of Ellsworth is expected to lead construction of the building.

Levin said the college’s plans have been submitted to the town’s planning board for approval and are scheduled for a public hearing Wednesday, Feb. 6.

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Bill Trotter

A news reporter in coastal Maine for more than 20 years, Bill Trotter writes about how the Atlantic Ocean and the state's iconic coastline help to shape the lives of coastal Maine residents and visitors....