A small group of families have gone together to purchase 20 acres of a decommissioned radar base on the thumb of Michigan. It is being converted into "an off-grid college campus and retirement community that will teach all the off-grid technologies, skilled trades, as well as the normal college level academics."
"This was once a NORAD facility that watched for incoming ICBMs from the Soviet Union. We want to turn it into a school of peace," said Phil Frankford, one of four founding leaders of the project.
The facility can house as many as 300 people, and includes dorms, classrooms, dinning hall, gym, handball courts, tennis courts, bowling alley, and more. Located about one mile from some of the best beaches in Michigan, its short-term RVs parking will accommodate the tourist industry that swells the surrounding population from 6,000 to a seasonal 70,000.
"Some people will visit and help for just a couple of weeks," said Frankford. " Others may choose to become full- time partners and live with us in off- campus housing. All of these people are counted as partners equally -- from those with pennies to the multi-millionaires. Each will be given the same level of respect and honor."
"By having the elderly community in association with the college students, we expect that some of their wisdom will rub off on the young people," he said.
An additional 10 acres of the 40-acre base are acquirable, which the group would like to integrate into their community, including a 5-floor building on top of which they would post a wind generator.
The group is looking into biofuels to supply most of their energy needs. The steam-heated buildings would retrofit well.
"We are now just setting the campus up," said Frankford. "It has been unused for the past 5 to 10 years. There is a lot of work that is being done. We are needing to replace most of the heating, cooling, and power to the buildings. While doing this, we want to use renewable solutions to manage our total energy requirements. We are seeking all forms of non-poluting, natural, inexpensive, highly efficient technologies that will become a model for other institutions."
They also would like to "partner with other local industry to provide them with their energy resources." They hope to be able to not just help them meet their needs but to "reduce their cost, their pollution, and their dependence on outside resources."
Port Austin is purported to have about the cleanest air in the nation as it has prevailing winds that blow across 400 miles of fresh water, Great Lake Huron. Cross-pollination is not an issue because of the air currents. "This will enable us to produce certified organic, non-GM foods, both for ourselves and to sell," said Frankford, whose responsibility is to locate industries to support the community. "We considered locations everywhere in the United States, and we determined that this was the best place to assure non cross-pollination with GM strains."
The clean air is also a major benefit for retirement age individuals, who are often home-bound in other areas of the country during certain times of the year because of bad air.
Another industry that Frankford plans to include in the community is a hardened data center. The facility is ideally suited for this purpose, having been designed to receive a direct hit and still continue. Frankford was commissioned by the Pentagon regarding disaster recovery following Sept. 11, 2001, and is thus well qualified to head up such a data back-up service.
While the sturdiness of the facility is a plus in this regard, it does not make for an aesthetically pleasing environment. "Our wives want us to do something to change the prison look of the compound," said Frankford. "We have plans to do some kind of beatification."
The facility was purchased in the first place by local citizens that did not want to have a prison near where they live.
The group is planning to hold some seminars this coming summer, including a Jazz festival. They are targeting Fall 2005 for their first semester of school. They plan to partner with other schools via tele-course, piggy backing off accredited institutions.
The founding group has a Saturday-Sabbath emphasis but welcomes people from other religious backgrounds as well.
The four trustees are composed of Norm Edwards, who is over the College and Media; Paul Drieman, Facilities Director; Terry Williams, Seniors Director; and Phil Frankford, who is in charge of industry, resources, and planning.
"This is not a survivalist community," says Frankford. "We aim to thrive."
The group welcomes inquiries and suggestions.