An architectural rendering depicts the Roberts Center for Agriculture and the Environment, an education and event facility to be built at the Roberts Farm Preserve in Norway. Submitted photo

NORWAY — With a nearly $90,000 grant, Western Foothills Land Trust is on its way to developing a multimillion-dollar agricultural and environmental center at the Roberts Farm Preserve on Roberts Road.

“The Roberts Center for Agriculture and the Environment is going to be great for the community,” Lee Dassler, executive director of the land trust, said. “It will be one more way that makes Norway a destination spot for tourism, outdoor activities, education and youth sports programs. As we build this we are continuing to expand our programming and conservation. We will keep working to connect our Nordic trail downtown. We hope to acquire easements that will connect Agnes Gray (in West Paris) and Oxford Elementary schools to nature-based education.”

The estimate to complete all four phases is between $6 million and $7 million.

The grant from the State Economic & Infrastructure Development Investment Program is part of the Northern Border Regional Commission established by Congress in 2008 as a partnership between the federal government and Maine, New Hampshire, New York and Vermont. The mission is to fund economic development and infrastructure projects throughout designated counties in the four states.

The $89,842 grant enables the land trust to start improvements. The first of four phases includes deconstruction of the farmhouse that dates to the 1820s, reinforcing other buildings in use, improving sustainable utilities, entry and parking, and adding an outdoor pavilion.

“The land trust spent two years working on plans with an architect,” Dassler said during a recent tour of the farm. The working group was charged with creating a plan to include the farmhouse and one without it.

“Ultimately, they decided that to proceed, the house would have to go. We are heartbroken to lose it,” she said.

Dassler said a donor agreed to pay for dismantling the house to match the grant.

Now that the grant has been awarded, the first order of business is taking down the two-story house. Local salvage woodworkers have started removing the old siding and taking away the sheathing they will use in reclaiming vintage designs.

Dassler hopes many of the features, such as the 28-inch solid wainscoting, will be repurposed in another structure.

The initial plan for the post and beam frame was to use it to construct an agricultural building in the future. However, when they started pulling the house apart the poor condition of the timbers ruled that out.

Once the house is removed, a loop entry will be built in that space, making it possible for buses to drop off and pick up students. Seventy-two parking spaces will be added, as well as four solar-powered electric car charging stations.

The extra parking will be a major improvement over the lot at the preserve’s trailhead and warming hut, which turns to deep mud long before the ski trails succumb to spring weather.

The modular classrooms and other buildings will be given much needed maintenance, with groundwork and a framed pavilion constructed as well.

All told, Dassler expects the first phase to take about two years and $200,000 to complete, making fundraising her main focus as work progresses.

The second phase will include raising a barn for land trust and tenant offices, new classroom space, a kitchen, storage, restrooms and an elevator. Water and septic system upgrades will be done and a sustainable power system added. The old modular classrooms will also be removed.

Phase three will include performance/event space added to the barn, landscaping, hardscaping and bridge access to the trailhead. Also planned is an agricultural/educational building to support hoop houses, high tunnel and other growing operations. A 32- by 34-foot agriculture building will include caretaker living quarters on the second floor.

Dassler said, “We really appreciate the support we got from our donors, as well as assistance from Maine’s senate and congressional staffers with this application,” she said. “It is nice to have a team in D.C. pulling for us.”

Since its inception in 2008, Western Foothills Land Trust has helped preserve more than 4,000 acres of Maine lands and acquired another 3,000 acres. To learn more about the organization and its programs, trails and new projects, visit www.wfltmaine.org/projects.

Lee Dassler, executive director of the Western Foothills Land Trust, points out some of the construction features of the original farmhouse at Roberts Farm Preserve on Roberts Road in Norway. The building is being dismantled and reappropriated for other uses as part of trust’s plans to build an agricultural and environmental education facility. Nicole Carter/Advertiser Democrat


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