Kennebec Valley Community College (KVCC) just carved itself a niche in Maine’s construction education space, and the timing is both opportune and critically necessary.

In 2014, as the pulp and paper industry came undone and the mills closed one by one, the construction industry began to recover from the economic collapse six years prior. Maine’s forests and its vast and renewable resources needed new markets. At the same time, the construction industry could benefit from new ways of thinking about better building practice.

That same year, KVCC received a grant from the U.S. Department of Labor and launched the Sustainable Construction program with its signature timber framing course. On day one, students pick up a chisel and mallet and chip away at green, local timbers, patiently shaping mortise and tenon joints that will support a semester project: a well-built frame fastened entirely without a nail or screw!

While working with timbers is certainly at the heart of the program and builds an important appreciation for high-quality, locally sourced materials, craftsmanship, and structural integrity, we know sustainability means much more. In this spirit, our students develop a holistic approach to the building trade, pulling from fields as diverse as solar photovoltaics and building science to small business management and 3-D modeling. The result is a student well-equipped to contribute to Maine’s 21st century building and forest economies.

A better quality of life for Mainers lies at the center of this endeavor, ensuring that we at KVCC are true ambassadors for our state’s motto and official status as role models for the way life should be. This quality of life is one where social, environmental, and economic advancement are not at odds with one another. The marriage of Maine’s natural forest resources and the building construction industry symbolize this balance so well.

Much of our state’s housing stock is arguably below or at code minimum, uncomfortable, unhealthy, expensive to operate, and totally reliant on polluting fossil fuels for energy and heat. We can do better while creating jobs, lowering long-term costs, and decreasing our carbon footprint.

The Sustainable Construction program at KVCC is just one player that is actively embracing the new forest economy in pursuit of ways of life that are new yet rooted in tradition. Just recently, Republican Senator Susan Collins and Independent Senator Angus King announced a new $450,000 grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration to create the Maine Mass Timber Commercialization Center at the University of Maine to help advance forest products technologies and enhance innovation in mass timber manufacturing. Tall buildings made of glued timbers are on the rise in popularity and the millennia-old craft of timber framing is experiencing its second resurgence since the 1970’s. What better way to do our part than to offer low-cost educational training to support these important movements?

To see this section as it originally appeared in print, click here.