MILO — The shift to outdoor learning during the pandemic has offered schools the opportunity to reimagine their classrooms and the lessons they teach. The Maine Environmental Education Association strove to support this opportunity by distributing close to $200,000 this school year, funding 160 schools across the state in all 16 counties. Teachers are using these funds to teach students about the natural world, provide them with skills that enable their independence and ensure more time outside.

In the fall of 2020, MEEA opened the first round of applications for the Mini-Grants for Outdoor Learning Program, a program aimed at redistributing funds to give teachers support as they imagined classrooms outside. After this successful fall cycle, MEEA was able to open a spring round of applications with additional funding from generous donors. This spring cycle’s recipients received up to $1,500 to support projects like teaching students bike maintenance, building school gardens, and designing interactive outdoor learning spaces.

Recipients of this spring grant include educators at Milo Elementary School and Penquis Valley Middle School. The potential impact of these spring grants is hopeful, as applications displayed new and creative ways to engage students in the outdoors and recent reporting from fall recipients illustrates how hundreds of youth across the state have been positively impacted by outdoor learning this school year.

MEEA Executive Director Olivia Griset shared, “At MEEA we are so grateful for the amazing educators who have worked so hard this year to get their students outside learning! Research shows that outdoor learning has hugely positive mental and physical health benefits and also academic benefits for youth. We also know that not all youth have access to the outdoors, which is an environmental justice issue. These teachers and projects happening in public schools across the state are helping to ensure that our youth have positive experiences gaining a deeper connection to nature in their local community. We are grateful to all the individuals who donated to make this project possible and to all the amazing teachers for their incredible work!”

This year, teachers stretched to fill the gap between school funding and their students’ needs. Often with limited resources, teachers are accomplishing incredible projects, engaging a variety of students, and bringing outdoor learning to new extents across the state. The impact of these projects supports thousands of youth across the state! Supporting teachers and schools in the pursuit of outdoor learning is a critical piece of MEEA’s mission as the organization strives to enhance and amplify the efforts of individuals and organizations that are building environmental awareness, fostering appreciation and understanding of the environment, and taking action towards creating equitable and resilient communities.

Dawn McLaughlin, grant recipient and physical education teacher at Milo Elementary shared the impact of the skis she bought for her grade 3-4 classes. She explained, “My students love the winter unit of snowshoeing and skiing.  During physical education classes we have participated in outdoor learning for all of my 35 years as the elementary PE teacher. The students year after year show growth in so many areas as a result of our outdoor units.  I am grateful that as a result of the money provided by the grant that our outdoor experience will be greatly improved.”

At Penquis Valley Middle School, Laurie Sproul was also a recipient. She shared some plans for her funding, “The funds from this grant will be used to purchase equipment and supplies for our recently made outdoor classroom and nature trail. We plan to establish native edible perennials around the classroom area, construct a pergola off the side of the classroom and four planters, purchase basic gardening equipment for the students, and purchase stain to preserve the classroom structure. “

MEEA continues to seek impactful partnerships with local communities and organizations during this changing cultural and environmental climate, as the equity-centered environmental work that MEEA creates plays a key role in building an environmentally literate Maine; where all people can engage civically and understand the relationship between their wellbeing and that of their environment.

MEEA plans to keep this program going by opening another round of applications this upcoming fall. If you or your organization are interested in donating to this fund, please contact [email protected].


Photo courtesy of Maine Environmental Education Association OUTDOOR LEARNING — The Maine Environmental Education Association has provided funding to both Milo Elementary and Penquis Valley Middle School. Monies have been used to purchase skies for grade 3-4 students and supplies for an outdoor classroom and nature trail.

MILO — Residents in the SAD 41 communities of Brownville, LaGrange and Milo will be voting on the proposed 2021-22 SAD 41 budget at the annual district budget meeting later this month, and then via referendum. The school board approved the schedule during its meeting held at the Penquis Valley School on June 1.

The annual district budget meeting starts at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, June 15, in the Walter “Eddie” Oakes Gymnasium, with a 5:30 p.m. information session before.

“The final step is the budget validation referendum which is in all the towns on June 24,” Superintendent Michael Wright said. On Thursday, June 24, SAD 41 voters will be asked if they approve the total budget approved nine days earlier.

“Make a point to get out and vote please,” Board Chairperson Roberta Trefts said.

In the summer of 2020, the district budget meeting was held over Zoom. At the polls in early August residents approved a $9.9 million-plus budget for the current academic year.

In other business, three appointments were made for Penquis Valley soccer head coach positions. Returning will be Jason Mills for the high school boys, Dawn McLauglin for high school girls and Erin Weston for middle school girls.

Trefts said the name for the middle school boys position will be presented for approval at the July meeting.

Penquis Valley High School Principal Michael Rollins said a traditional graduation ceremony is planned for 2 p.m. on Sunday, June 13, in the gym. Social distancing and mask protocols that have been in place all year will be in effect for the graduation.

Wright said he wanted to thank all SAD 41 staff for their hard work over the last year-plus. “It’s been a year like no other for all schools across the country, including in Maine and our region,” he said. “We had to deal with things we never thought we would.”

The superintendent said he believes everyone handled school in the best manner possible.

AUGUSTA — The Maine Bureau of Veterans’ Services is pleased to announce the winners of the 2021 Disabled Veterans’ Controlled Moose Hunt lottery.

Seven Mainers were selected for the opportunity to participate in the hunt, and five alternates were selected in the event a primary hunter cannot attend. Ken Blagburn of Lake View Plantation is among the seven primary winners.

The others are John Krott, Brunswick; Berthol Daigle, Eagle Lake; John Roy, Rome; Ryan Jennings, Bowdoinham; Adrian Vielhauer, Bethel; and Richard Parent, Sommerville.

Since the program’s inception in 2010, MBVS has partnered with the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife and Smoldering Lake Outfitters to issue hunting permits and essential equipment to participating veterans. The hunt, which is entirely free for selected veterans, includes guiding services, essential adaptive equipment, meat processing, travel and lodging.

MBVS Director David Richmond offered the following regarding the hunt, “This program provides a wonderful opportunity for veterans to engage with the outdoors and each other. It’s not only about the moose, but about the bonds that form between the veterans in the group that unite in a common goal. Congratulations to this year’s winners, best of luck on the hunt and thank you to all of the sponsors who make the hunts possible.”

Unlike the regular IF&W moose lottery, the Disabled Veterans’ Controlled Moose Lottery is limited to only those veterans with a disability rating of at least 50 percent.  Each hunter is required to team up with a registered Maine Guide who has specific training for the hunt, and if a veteran has ever tagged a moose through the program, that veteran is ineligible to hunt again. The selected hunters will join the folks at Smoldering Lake Outfitters in Bridgewater for a late summer hunt in Aroostook County.

For more information on the Maine Bureau of Veterans’ Services and the Disabled Veterans’ Controlled Moose Hunt, please visit https://www.maine.gov/veterans/benefits/recreational-licenses/veterans-moose-lottery.html or call 207-430-6035. Applications for the 2022 Maine Disabled Veterans’ Controlled Moose Hunt will be available on the Maine Bureau of Veterans’ Website on March 1, 2022.

The Maine Bureau of Veterans’ Services was established in 1947 by the State of Maine and is part of the Maine Department of Defense, Veterans, and Emergency Management. Our mission is to help Mainers who served, and their loved ones, understand and navigate the benefits, services, and programs available to them. The Bureau does this by being a responsive, experienced, and dedicated advocate. The Bureau is headquartered at Camp Keyes and has six field service offices located throughout the state and a claims office located at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Togus, Maine. The Bureau also operates the Maine Veterans Memorial Cemetery System which includes four veterans’ cemeteries. For more information about the Bureau or to request assistance, please visit our website at www.maine.gov/veterans.

MILO — Have you ever wanted to hold an ancient Incan tool made from a meteorite, or see a Columbian Mammoth tooth? Most museums are sober, quiet places that discourage interaction with the exhibits, but the Harrigan Learning Center and Museum, located in Milo, is a breath of  fresh air. The Director Tom Harrigan and Assistant Director Lydia Richard are welcoming and affable. They encourage guests to take photos, engage with the exhibits, and some pieces are  even allowed to be handled. Tom and Lydia are happy to guide guests through the museum and  regale them with the tales behind the artifacts. As Tom says, “this museum is built on stories”  and he has one for just about every item on display.

The Harrigan Learning Center and Museum of Fossils, Minerals and First American Artifacts (and much more) is one of five buildings Nancy and Tom Harrigan designed, and hired Ron Desmarais to build for them. The town of Milo gave them 2.1 acres of land in the Business Park to put them on. The Harrigans completely furnished the buildings and obtained a 501(c)3 tax  status and a Foundation designation for the Three Rivers Milo and Brownville Kiwanis Club and then donated the buildings one by one to the Kiwanis Club when the work on them was  completed. The Kiwanis Foundation Headquarters building was completed in 2013, the Museum building was completed in 2016, the Points North Visitors Center and the Pavilion were completed in 2017, and the vehicle and storage building was completed in 2018. All the  buildings are powered from two banks of 36 solar panels each, one mounted on the roof of the Museum and the other mounted on the roof of the Visitor Center.

The Museum has something to peak everyone’s interest — from alligator skulls to arrow  heads, to rhinoceros fossils, moose antlers, dinosaur tracks, petrified wood from Arizona, fluorescent minerals from Franklin, New Jersey, a Native American exhibit that was blessed by a local chief, lots of fossils and minerals and much more. The Museum also has 17 large murals painted by Suzette East who chose subjects to enhance the collection. She also  painted 21 large canvases called destination paintings that are on exhibit in the Visitor Center. The center recently added a webcam display that shows 14 local locations, most  of which are in Milo and Brownville, including a view of an eagle’s nest over the Piscataquis  River.

If you head into the Visitor Center you will also be able to find books written by local  authors, a Boy Scout exhibit, a display of historical photographs of Milo and Brownville, a mineral display by the Penobscot Mineral and Lapidary Club, other minerals and fossils, exhibits from the past by both the Milo and Brownville historical societies, wildlife photography by Marcie Palmer and aerial photography by Blaine Chadwick and a museum exhibit with accompanying stories, of course.

The Harrigan Learning Center and Museum has caught the attention of many, as it has hosted U.S. Rep. Jared Golden and U.S. Sen. Angus King. Television stations WABI and WVII and newspapers Bangor Daily News, the Eastern Gazette and the Piscataquis Observer which have reported stories on the museum. King described the Harrigan Learning Center and Museum as “the Smithsonian of the North” because of the uniqueness  and quality of its collections. U.S. Sen. Susan Collins visited Kiwanis Headquarters building a little after it first opened and gave a program there.

The Harrigan Learning Center and Museum has been operating by reservation only during the pandemic but has opened its doors as of May 15. The hours are Wednesday and Saturday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sunday 1-4 p.m. or by appointment. School field trips and group visits are  welcome, just call ahead for arrangements at 207-943-3675 or 207-943-3677. Minimum admission donations are adults $9, seniors over 65 $7, children (4-16) and students $5. Children under 4 are free. The Museum’s address is 15 Harris Pond Road Milo, ME 04463 (it is in the Business Park next to a 67,000 solar panel solar park).


Photo courtesy of Jean Greenough
INTRICATE CARVING — A walnut shell with 12 very detailed people carved into it. This is one of many items on display at the Harrigan Learning Center and Museum in Milo.

MILO — A space behind the Penquis Valley School that previously had little to offer younger middle school students during recess now has a brand new playground. The Penquis Valley Community Playground was formally opened with a ribbon cutting at the end of the school day on May 27.

Penquis Valley Middle School grades 5-6 social studies teacher Debbie Page, standing on a playground platform with microphone in hand, thanked the students, staff and community for coming to see the grand opening of the playground featuring equipment all in red, white and blue school colors.

“We’re so thankful to so many of you. You have been with us every step of the way so that this day would finally come,” Page said. “What you see here is a culmination of much hard work and generosity. We have raised, to date, $138,000,” she said to the first of many rounds of applause.

Page said some people may wonder why fundraising is still going on, and the reason is there is more to come at the site. “Well this is our phase one. Our phase two goal is a zipline, a swingset, repaving the basketball court and then a picnic pavilion and we won’t stop there,” she said. “Phase three you are going to look out back here, that’s going to be your new soccer field.”

The grand opening was to thank everyone who played a role in making the Penquis Valley Community Playground a reality. Page asked Tony and Cheana Bavelaar — the parents of three daughters including two in grade school — to come forward.

“They came to me in September 2019.They heard that I really cared about doing this project and they asked if they could help make this happen,” Page said. She said the Bavelaars led the way on many fronts, and Tony has been a key supervisor for project planning and construction.

Previously, the younger students at Penquis Valley Middle School had little more than a decades-old basketball court and a small area with a pile of dirt and two roads going by it to use for recess. Page and others saw the need and work began to change this with a new age-suitable playground.

SAD 41 fifth-graders moved to Penquis Valley several years ago, a few years after grade 6 students moved over from the Milo and Brownville elementary schools.

“COVID struck just when we were gearing up for several major fundraisers. We did not believe that we would be able to achieve our goals at that point,” Page said. “We were very discouraged but then I received a telephone call from a very special grandmother in our community.”

Page said this resident was excited about the prospect of her grandchildren having a school playground. “She wrote me a check for $50,000, that was her life savings. Her only request was to keep her name anonymous,” Page said. “It was this donation that helped us realize our dream would become a reality.”

“We couldn’t have done a project like this without a good, solid committee,”  Page said next as she called committee members forward to be recognized.

Page also thanked administrators of the school and SAD 41. “Thank you truly for all of your support you have given us along the way and given us your approval and encouragement for this playground,” she said.

Earlier this year a $28,734 donation from the Bill and Joan Alfond Foundation completed the first phase fundraising goal of the Penquis Valley Community Playground.

Page said Milo resident Paul Bradeen, who managed the Dexter Shoe Company factory in town, was instrumental in communicating the school’s needs to the Alfond Family. “He worked with me to tweak what our needs are and he presented it to the foundation and lo and behold we were able to finish up our phase one of this playground.”

She then recognized other businesses and organizations contributing to the playground. “Students notice all of the names I am calling, these are people who worked very hard either with their time or their money for you,” she said.

“This next group of people is the workers and boy did they work,” Page said, in calling more attendees forward to be acknowledged. “They dug the holes, they had to position the equipment and then cement had to be poured to secure everything.”

“We wish to thank all community members who donated by offering raffle items, large and small amounts of money, it’s all added up,” Page said. She then called the students who sold the most raffle tickets to come up and cut the ceremonial ribbon to open the Penquis Valley Community Playground.

MILO — LSI Industries Inc., a leading U.S. based manufacturer of commercial lighting and graphics solutions, on Monday announced the acquisition of privately held JSI Store Fixtures (“JSI”) from RFE Investment Partners for a cash purchase price of $90 million.

Milo-based JSI is a market-leading provider of retail commercial display solutions throughout North America.  For more than 30 years, JSI has supplied major supermarket, convenience and specialty store chains with branded display solutions focused on enhancing the customer experience and driving store revenue. Multi-year growth in demand for fresh foods, prepared “grab-and-go” meals and evolving consumer purchasing habits have led to increased demand for JSI’s display fixtures across a deep base of established national accounts. JSI’s solutions are designed, engineered, manufactured and marketed from four facilities located throughout the United States and Canada.

“JSI is an established market leader within the retail display solutions industry, one whose history of growth and innovation, attractive margin profile and loyal customer following within the supermarket, convenience and specialty store verticals are highly complementary to LSI’s existing portfolio of lighting and graphics solutions,” stated James A. Clark, president and chief executive officer.

“This acquisition will significantly increase LSI’s total addressable markets within the grocery and convenience store verticals, while driving meaningful revenue synergies across our combined product portfolio, consistent with our long-term strategic focus,” continued Clark.  “At a commercial level, the combination of LSI’s graphics signage and JSI’s display fixtures businesses, together with our deep portfolio of lighting and program management solutions, will provide a compelling, one-stop value proposition for both new and existing customers.”

“Just as the combination of our lighting and graphics businesses led to the creation of a commercially successful, complementary product offering, the addition of JSI follows a similar template, one that positions us to further diversify our revenue and customer mix within higher-margin product markets,” continued Clark.  “Pro-forma for the transaction, we remain on track to achieve $500 million in annual sales and $50 million in annual Adjusted EBITDA by year-end fiscal 2025.”

“We are excited to join the LSI family,” stated Terry Awalt, CEO of JSI.  “Our shared commitment to product innovation, customer-centric relationships, performance excellence and profitable growth position LSI as an ideal partner to scale the JSI brand in the years ahead. Our established presence within the supermarket vertical, when combined with LSI’s leading position within the c-store vertical, create a compelling opportunity that we believe will result in significant, long-term revenue synergies for the combined businesses.”

JSI has a long-term track record of consistent financial execution, one characterized by sustained growth in revenue, operating income, adjusted EBITDA and free cash flow.  In the full year calendar 2020, JSI reported total revenue and Adjusted EBITDA of approximately $70 million and $10 million, respectively, resulting in an Adjusted EBITDA margin in excess of LSI’s trailing 12-month corporate average. Upon closing, the transaction will be immediately accretive to LSI on an adjusted earnings per share basis.

LSI funded the all-cash acquisition of JSI utilizing its existing cash balance and availability under its $100 million credit facility.  At closing, LSI anticipates that its pro-forma ratio of net debt outstanding to trailing twelve month adjusted EBITDA will be approximately 2.6 times. LSI intends to significantly reduce net leverage within the business during the first 24 months post-close, supported by anticipated growth in pro-forma free cash flow from the combined entities.

As part of the transaction, LSI will welcome JSI’s more than 300 employees to LSI, while retaining JSI’s experienced leadership, including Awalt, together with each of its four facilities.  Following the close of the transaction, JSI will remain an independent brand, given its established presence in the market. LSI anticipates JSI will become part of LSI’s graphics segment on a reporting basis, moving forward.

Transaction rationale includes:

Creates a diversified business of scale with meaningful cross-selling opportunities in growing vertical markets. The combination of LSI and JSI will create a leading, integrated provider of lighting and display solutions to the North American supermarket, convenience and specialty store channels. JSI’s established presence within the grocery channel, together with LSI’s market leadership position within the petroleum convenience store and QSR channels, are highly complementary, creating the potential for significant, multi-year revenue synergies.

Provides compelling growth platform with established product portfolio and customer base. LSI estimates the North American remote refrigeration and fixtures market to be approximately $1.7 billion annually and growing. JSI is one of the largest food equipment companies in North America, with a diverse base of recurring, long-term customers, including Whole Foods, Kroger, Target, Albertsons, Ahold Delhaize and Sprouts, among others.

Capitalizes on significant, multi-year investment cycle within the grocery vertical.  The North American grocery industry is engaged in a multi-year investment cycle intended to drive incremental in-store traffic growth 38,000-plus grocery stores in the U.S. representing $700 billion in annual sales.  Increased investment in store remodels, evolving formats, cost-efficient energy-saving solutions and fresh grab-and-go options have driven increased customer appetite for aesthetically appealing, compliant refrigeration solutions and fixtures.  LSI believes its time-on-site and share-of-wallet for its lighting and graphics solutions in the grocery vertical will be significantly enhanced by the acquisition of JSI.

Transaction is immediately accretive to LSI’s adjusted earnings per share. JSI is expected to deliver meaningful adjusted earnings per share accretion to LSI in the first year after the close of the transaction, excluding acquisition-related revenue synergies. LSI anticipates a combination of continued, above-market revenue growth, together with significant opportunities for additional margin expansion, have the potential to support incremental accretion, over time.

Headquartered in Blue Ash, Ohio (greater Cincinnati), LSI Industries is a leading producer of high-performance, American-made lighting solutions. The Company’s strength in outdoor lighting applications creates opportunities for it to introduce additional solutions to its valued customers. LSI’s indoor and outdoor products and services, including its digital and print graphics capabilities, are valued by architects, engineers, distributors and contractors for their quality, reliability and innovation. The Company’s products are used extensively in automotive dealerships, petroleum stations, quick service restaurants, grocery stores and pharmacies, retail establishments, sports complexes, parking lots and garages, and commercial and industrial buildings. LSI has approximately 1,100 employees at seven manufacturing plants in the United States, including its corporate headquarters. Additional information about LSI is available at www.lsicorp.com.

JSI is a Milo-based designer and manufacturer of high-quality refrigerated and non-refrigerated merchandising displays for the grocery and convenience store industry. JSI’s merchandising displays are used by many of North America’s top retail food chains. JSI has established itself as an innovator and leader within its niche, with commanding market shares in its primary product categories.

RFE Investment Partners is a private equity firm focused on making control investments in established small market companies located in North America. RFE is a long-standing Connecticut-based firm founded in 1980 with over 40 years of experience investing in the lower middle market. RFE’s investment strategy is to acquire well-managed and growing small market companies and prepare them for exit to middle market strategic and private equity acquirers. RFE is currently investing out of Fund IX. For more information, please visit www.rfeip.com.

BROWNVILLE — Brownville Elementary was one of 205 schools from 43 states across the country to receive a $5,000 grant through the Laura Bush Foundation for America’s Libraries. Laura Bush joined Kelly Clarkson on “The Kelly Clarkson Show” to announce that the Laura Bush Foundation for America’s Libraries awarded more than $1 million in library grants this year.

Brownville Elementary Librarian Mrs. Lavigne shared that she wants to update the non-fiction section of the library.  So many things change over the years and it is important to have accurate information in their books.

Inspired by the Laura Bush Foundation, H-E-B surprised 15 Texas-based Laura Bush Foundation for America’s Libraries grant recipients with an additional gift totaling $100,000. Scholastic Books also provided the 34 teachers and educators in the virtual audience with money to purchase books for their schools and students.

The grant recipients’ library collections are outdated, averaging approximately 20 years old. Many of the libraries will use the funds to update their collection, offer more dual language titles and provide books focused on diversity and inclusivity.

“There are many students who don’t have books at home, so having access to a library at school is essential,” Bush said. “With the grants, school libraries across the nation can restock and update their collections providing opportunities for students for years to come.”

Bush also revealed her 2021 summer reading list, which includes recommendations for young readers through middle schoolers. Selections highlight books focused on diversity, inclusion and kindness; and the list features a title by the late Beverly Cleary.

“The summer reading list is a great resource for parents and caregivers,” Bush said. “As libraries open back up all over our country, I hope children will take the list to their local library and borrow each of the featured titles. It is so important that all kids keep reading over summer break.”

Grant applications for the 2021-22 school year will open in late 2021. Visit www.bushcenter.org to learn more.

The Laura Bush Foundation for America’s Libraries supports school libraries with the greatest needs with the goal of encouraging all students to develop a love of reading and learning. Since its inception in 2002, it has awarded more than $16 million to more than 2,800 schools across the country.

The Laura Bush Foundation is managed as a restricted fund at the George W. Bush Presidential Center in Dallas, Texas.  More information can be found at www.bushcenter.org.

Housed within the George W. Bush Presidential Center, the George W. Bush Institute is an action-oriented, nonpartisan, policy organization with the mission of developing leaders, advancing policy, and taking action to solve today’s most pressing challenges. Through three Impact Centers — Domestic Excellence, Global Leadership, and an Engagement Agenda — the Bush Institute delivers measurable results that save and improve lives. To learn more, visit www.BushCenter.org.

Photos courtesy of Three Rivers Kiwanis
SIDEWALK LIBRARY — In front of the Kiwanis Kids Sidewalk Library at the Milo Tradewinds are Three Rivers Kiwanis President Ken Jay and Milo Elementary School teacher Lilian Perkins with her daughter Delhia, a second-grader. Children can take a book and leave a book at the Kiwanis Kids Sidewalk Library.