OPAL Build has set up shop at Belfast's Armory to create environmentally sustainable building materials. Credit: Kay Neufeld / BDN

Belfast’s former armory has a new tenant bringing eco-friendly buildings to Maine.

OPAL Build started work this year in the armory built in 1940 by the National Guard, which withdrew in 2018, according to the Republican Journal

The company is now using green building materials for building in founder Matthew O’Malia’s hometown of 20 years. He calls it a natural next step in a mission to foster sustainable infrastructure and industry in Maine, a sector in which his vertically integrated set of companies are playing a leading role.

“We are supported and have developed because there’s been a lot of like minded people who want to do right by the planet and do right by people in the community,” he said.

O’Malia, a Belfast resident for 20 years, co-founded GO Logic, an architecture firm, in 2008. In 2017, O’Malia expanded his network of companies with business partner Josh Henry. GO Lab, which purchased the former Madison paper mill in 2019, makes sustainable softwood chips. 

O’Malia left GO Logic to co-found OPAL in 2019. OPAL is a player in the national passive house movement, which aims to construct buildings with energy-efficient insulation to reduce emissions.

Timber HP was then founded in 2023 to create wood fiber insulation in Madison. In Belfast, OPAL Build creates buildings out of environmentally sustainable materials, including those made by its sister company.

OPAL has so far created energy-efficient building infrastructure for the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, Cornerspring Montessori School in Belfast, the College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor and a field research station on Hurricane Island in Penobscot Bay.

The mission is to diminish the environmental impacts of buildings and construction. In 2018, 39 percent of energy and industrial emissions were caused by buildings and the construction industry, according to an International Energy Agency report.

“Architects and builders and planners, the work that we do every day is going to either positively impact the environment or negatively impact it,” O’Malia said. “Going to work, I’m trying to figure out, ‘How can we be more sustainable? How can we help improve the climate rather than degrade it?’”

O’Malia’s firm was previously creating designs with energy-efficient materials with a large carbon footprint, like foam and fiberglass. OPAL is now using insulation made from wood waste from lumber mills with a negative carbon footprint made by Timber HP. 

“The insulation doesn’t contribute to the carbon problem and actually helps solve it not only from the operational savings but storing carbon in the material,” O’Malia said.

It is also creating new job opportunities for carpenters. In its current form, OPAL is building a team of 20 in Belfast with plans to continue expanding as the company grows.

“Our goal is to really optimize our labor force here,” O’Malia said. “There’s a lot of talent in the area.”

Correction: An earlier version of this report contained errors. The company that creates wood fiber insulation is called Timber HP. The first company O’Malia founded in Belfast in the eco-friendly construction arena was named GO Logic. It was created in 2008. O’Malia co-founded OPAL Build in 2019, after leaving GO Logic. OPAL Build uses environmentally friendly building materials to create more sustainable homes.