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Falmouth foundation seeks Portland community development funds

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Falmouth foundation seeks Portland community development funds

PORTLAND — A Falmouth foundation wants to tap into Portland's share of federal Community Development funds to help pay for a $2 million education facility at the old Tidewater Farm.

Tidewater Farm Regional Learning Center is a collaboration between Tidewater Conservation Foundation, the University of Maine and the Cumberland County Extension Association. They have so far raised about $1 million for the project.

Portland receives funding though the federal Community Development Block Grant program each year. The city is an entitlement community, and a majority of funds are given to local social service agencies and programs that benefit residents living in low- to moderate-income neighborhoods. The funds can also be used for economic development and for improvements to infrastructure and buildings.

Tidewater is asking for $400,000 to build an 8,000-square-foot learning center on five acres of conservation land next to the Presumpscot River estuary. It is also asking for $215,000 in Cumberland County CDBG funds.

Tidewater Farms has 32 total acres of open space, with 3.2 miles of trails. It is located off of Clearwater Drive in Falmouth. The learning center would house sustainable agriculture and horticulture programs offered through UMaine Extension and Southern Maine Community College.

David Bateman, who developed housing at Tidewater and is treasurer of the Tidewater Conservation Foundation, said the learning center would also provide a space for the Center for African Heritage farming program and Cultivating Communities, both of which are Portland nonprofits.

"It's really a private-public partnership," Bateman said of the center.

The foundation is applying for funds from Portland on the premise that the center would provide jobs for low- to moderate-income Portland residents. According to an e-mail from the foundation, those jobs would be in construction of the center and permanent jobs after the center is built.

Penny Littell, Portland's director of Planning and Urban Development, said she does not believe a group outside the city has ever applied for Portland CDBG funding.

Portland received about $2.3 million in CDBG funds last year; $1.6 million went toward development activities including sidewalk rebuilding, tree planting, park maintenance and improvements, and handicap ramps and elevators for nonprofits. The federal government has not yet released CDBG funding allocations for this year, but is expected to soon.

Aaron Shapiro, the director of Community Development for the county, said Tidewater applied for the county funds.

"This would be an economic development project, through job creation," Shapiro explained. Cumberland County received about $1.5 million last year.

Portland's CDBG Annual Allocations Committee is expected Friday to finalize which social service programs and development activities should get funding for 2010-2011.

The City Council will get those recommendations in March.

Kate Bucklin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or kbucklin@theforecaster.net