Facilities will expand opportunities for year-round nature-based learning for Lakes Region residents and visitors
LACONIA – On the cusp of summer, the 160 acres around Prescott Farm Environmental Education Center on White Oaks Road are full of beautiful sights and sounds. On any weekday morning a visitor will likely see Fledglings Nature Based Preschoolers learning and playing. They might hear garden volunteers discussing which veggies are ready to plant, which beds to weed, and which sections of the vast perennial gardens need invasive abatement. And they will certainly see and hear visitors of all ages taking the time to enjoy the views, the time in nature, and a connection to one another.
With plenty of daylight, moderate temperatures, and the school year coming to a close, the possibilities of learning and teaching in nature seem infinite in the summertime. During the darker and colder months, however, obstacles arise. That’s why the nonprofit, established in 1997, has spent the last three years developing a master site plan and considering ways to overcome seasonal limitations such as a lack of indoor heated space, limited restroom and kitchen facilities, and a challenging driveway and parking lot configuration. This spring, construction of Phase I of the master site plan is underway at Prescott Farm to accomplish these goals.
The building project, approved by the City of Laconia Planning board this winter, has three major components:
- A 3,610 sf Innovation Center that will include a five-station teaching kitchen, maker space, screened porch, restroom facilities, storage, and a maintenance area;
- A 1,150 sf finished space in the ell connected to the barn that will include public restroom facilities, a small classroom/meeting room, and a small office; and
- An expansion of the parking areas with improvements to the current driveway that will improve traffic flow and safety during drop-off and pick-up times.
Prescott Farm Executive Director Jude Hamel said that the interest in nature- and outdoor-based learning experiences is greater than ever. “After two years of being ‘cooped up’ due to the pandemic, we’re seeing more and more people participating in our programs. COVID 19 has brought the need for people of all ages to connect with nature and with each other into sharp relief.”
The new learning spaces will vastly increase the number and scope of onsite programs that Prescott Farm educators and guest instructors can host.
“We are thrilled that our organization is in a position to become an even bigger resource for the Lakes Region,” said Robert Ewell, a resident of Laconia and a member of the Prescott Farm board of directors. “We already see about 3,000 program participants and visitors annually and when this project is complete, we estimate we will see that number increase substantially.”
Prescott Farm’s Master Plan was developed with input from the Board, staff, community volunteers, and with consultation from Lavallee Brensinger Architects. The property project is managed by Conneston Construction, Inc. (CCI).
Funding for the project is provided by a grant from The Samuel P. Pardoe Foundation and by individual donors who support Prescott Farm. Over the past 25 years, The Samuel P. Pardoe Foundation has donated $11 million in grants for education, human services, and land and resource management to Lakes Region organizations. In July 2021, the foundation announced its plan to wind down its grant-making program in the Lakes Region when it awarded fifteen valedictory multi-year grants totalling $600,000 to area nonprofits that meet the needs of Lakes Region residents and protect the region’s environment. Support for the capital expansion at Prescott Farm is considered to be another wind-down activity of the foundation, however partial support for Prescott Farm’s operations is expected to continue.
Early stages of the site work at Prescott Farm began in April with project completion forecast by the end of November.