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Tour highlights Portland school's environmental efforts

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Tour highlights Portland school's environmental efforts

PORTLAND — Elementary school students this week got a close look at the many programs that promote and explore environmental sustainability at Lincoln Middle School.

On Monday, students from Longfellow Elementary School toured the school, where they planted seedlings they hope will blossom into vegetables that will be consumed at next fall's Maine Harvest Lunch, an event that highlights both the nutritional and environmental value of eating locally grown foods.

The scope of environmental sustainability programs at the Lincoln has been extensive, and their successes are measured through a variety of computer programs. All of the sustainability initiatives have been funded by grants and private donations.

In 2007, faculty members wanted to create a self-sustaining classroom, a desire that led to the construction of a geodesic dome built by eighth-graders and teachers. In addition to the dome, the school has solar panels, seven raised outdoor  planting beds outdoors, two planting areas for native bushes and plants and a second-floor greenhouse.  

Now the school is looking to start a permaculture club and school-wide composting program. Permaculture is the practice of building human settlements and ecosystems that closely mimic the functions of nature.

"Nature is very efficient," said Nancy Sanchez, an art teacher and director of the budding club. "It's doesn't waste, anything so it's very sustainable."

Sanchez said the group's plan is to have food scrapes put in a compost bin, rather than the trash. She said the school has special bins that contain worms that speed the composting process by digesting the uneaten food and keeping the soil loose. 

Sanchez said the compost will be used as an organic fertilizer for starting seedlings in the geodesic dome and later in the outdoor gardens. She said using homemade compost is better than most commercial fertilizer, which is petroleum-based. 

The school also recycles milk bottles and will stop using molded foam trays in the cafeteria. Next year, those trays will be made of cardboard, which is biodegradable. 

Since June 2008, the school's solar panels have saved enough energy to power 99 homes
for one day and have reduced carbon emissions by the amount of pollution emitted from 225 days of average vehicle use.

Without considering the solar panels, sixth-grade science teacher Holly Towns said the school has reduced the school's energy consumption by 14 percent, mostly by installing timers on its laptop computer charging systems and reducing the number of lights being used.

When students made their way to the dome, eighth-grade engineering technology teacher Thomas Fournier explained how the dome is able to convert the radiant energy from sunlight into thermal, electrical and chemical energies. The 33-foot wide dome on Monday was 30-degrees warmer than the outside temperature, he said, noting the dome temperature reached 76 degrees during one January day. 

"This thing is completely self-sustaining," said Fournier, one of six finalists for Maine Department of Education's Teacher of the Year award for his environmental work at Lincoln.

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or rbillings@theforecaster.net.