SEATTLE-A couple of Seattle philanthropists are developing a 225-acre parcel of land into a $52 million environmental learning center that will be beneficial to both adults and children.

Paul and Debbi Brainerd became interested in the 225-acre site on Bainbridge Island in 1997 when they were exploring the 1,100-acre Bainbridge property slated for development. The couple has purchased a weekend home there and felt it would be a shame to turn the undeveloped plot into homes.

Paul and Debbi Brainerd took an option on a 225-acre parcel on the site a few years ago and conducted a six-month feasibility study to come up with ideas for the land. The couple found out that Washington State mandated environmental education in 1990 but never funded it. The Brainerds decided that they could use the site for environmental education and set to work on making the project economically feasible.

The learning center will combine programs for children with teacher training, graduate school programs and other adult programs. While the children’s programs will not be financially beneficial, the adult programs make the project profitable.

The Brainerds put up half the $52 million needed for the project, purchasing the land, funding the endowment and part of the construction. The state and private funds will pay for the rest.

The grand opening of the The Puget Sound Environmental Learning Center this fall will transform the huge site into a school in the woods, teaching 7,000 participants annually. Only 12 acres will be cleared for the facility’s buildings, which include an art center and sleeping cabins.

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