Spring Creek School, Bellefonte PA

Director M. Dean Fenton Ph. D.

The mission of the Spring Creek School of Sustainable Living is to explore, develop, practice, and teach living on the land in a way that is ecologically and socially sustainable.

If you're ready to make a difference in the world, Spring Creek School is ready for you

The Spring Creek School of Sustainable Living is the only institution of its kind in North America. Its focus is sustainable living, planning and design. Each year, through its ten-month graduate program just sixteen to eighteen graduate students from diverse backgrounds are immersed in a range of applied sustainable studies, ranging in scale from residences to villages to regions. Graduates will go on to play significant professional roles in various aspects of sustainable living, planning and design.

What makes Spring Creek School of Sustainable Living an exciting place to study is a curriculum that is based on:

Is Spring Creek School for you?

The Spring Creek School of Sustainable Living ,a Pennsylvania non-profit corporation organized under Chapter 180 of the General Laws, is a professional training school of sustainable living. As an equal opportunity institution, it does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national or ethnic origin, age, gender, sexual orientation, religion, marital or veteran status in the administration of the educational, admissions, employment, or other policies, or in any other school-administered program.

Spring Creek School's Mission

The mission of the Spring Creek School of Sustainable Living Design is to explore, develop, practice, and teach design of Sustainable Living that is ecologically and socially sustainable. The intention is to:

Sustainable Living is what's needed in the world today and it's at the heart of the mission of the Spring Creek School of Sustainable Living its Graduate Program in Sustainable Living Design & EcoVillage Planning.

The School's mission guides decision-making at every level: who is hired, what projects are undertaken, how courses are structured, and what offices and sites are visited on field trips. While the program is thoroughly based in ecological beliefs and practices, the focus of the education remains design and environmental science. Student input is very important in all aspects of Spring Creek School both in the administration and in the course design.

Setting:  Spring Creek School of Sustainable Living Rural Context

Spring Creek School of Sustainable Living is located in Bellefonte PA. The School site is between Bellefonte and State College Pennsylvania and is less that ten miles to Penn State University. An area of rural setting and the resources of large academic community. The School is adjacent to Spring Creek. Bellefonte is reestablishing its Victorian Era roots. The school is located in the small village of Roopsburg where there was an active beer brewery, a large water powered mill and a Blacksmith Shop. The school is located on the land and in the residence of John Hazen, Blacksmith 1860.

The school is located at 113 Buffalo Run Road in Bellefonte, township of Benner and village of Roopsburg. The original residence is being retrofitted to use minimum energy and still maintain its historical character. With a strong conservation effort the building will approach net zero in its energy usage.

There is also a kitchen available for preparing and heating lunches and snacks.

The facilities are comfortable, and the rural surroundings – rich woodlands, rolling farm fields – are a welcome balance to the intensive fast pace of student life at the school.

Fast Facts

Illustration 1: Penn State Pattee / Paterno Library. A large University Collection available to residents of the community.

Our method:  Not your garden-variety graduate school experience

A Spring Creek School education is for life—your life—not for a single profession that someone else or history has defined. Unlike many professional degree programs, a Spring Creek School masters degree is not narrowly focused. Instead of educating students to fit into tidy professional categories, we help each student define an individual path that is meaningful and promising for that student for their life and for the planet. Graduates with this experience will go on to meaningful and diverse work and/or in their living sustainability.

Learning by doing

For most sustainable practitioners, learning by doing is the most efficient and effective way to learn. By applying classroom concepts to real projects of varying scales, Spring Creek School students rapidly develop the skills and knowledge to be responsible and independent designers and planners. This process of discovery is more effective than memorizing facts or formulas and is better suited to discovering the essentials of sustainable design. Emphasis is on how to get information rather than memorizing current facts which will only, in time, change.

At Spring Creek School, students learn how to be self-educators by helping direct their own educations. To this end, students identify individual educational goals at the beginning of the year and monitor the achievement of those goals as the year progresses. This skill encourages graduates to be life-long learners and to live in a sustainable manner.

Instruction at Spring Creek School goes beyond techniques, stressing the processes that organize techniques and strategies and reveal underlying concepts. The ability to use an organized process enables the student to address a wide range of environmental problems and take advantage of diverse opportunities and alternative solutions to complex problems. Methods of evaluation of various systems is emphasized.

Clear, concise communication—oral, written, and visual—is essential to success as a environmental visionary. The sustainable designer must not only be able to develop efficient systems but also must be able to explain why these systems work and show the advantages of one system over another based on recognized measures and not current hype.

The Master of Sustainable Living program offered at Spring Creek School represents an integrated curriculum where classes complement design practice. Instruction occurs in a small, intimate, and supportive environment. There is an unambiguous emphasis on ecological and social responsibility, oral and written communication skills, and project management. We define the words sustainability and living very broadly to cover diverse topics in sustainable design and planning.

Accredited Masters Degree

Spring Creek School is in the process of applying for accreditation by various authorities.  

Perspective Students

The school seeks well-rounded students who will be able to perform at graduate levels of ability in applying theoretical principles of design and analyzing concrete information. Although there is no prerequisite field of study, entering students must have a bachelor’s degree or the equivalent, and must show capability to work in an accelerated program by documenting maturity and success in both academic and work situations.

Application requirements:

  1. written application including responses to seven essay questions;

  2. academic transcripts from all previous institutions of higher learning;

  3. three letters of reference;

  4. current resume;

  5. a personal interview with Spring Creek School faculty at the school or by phone if the student is out of the area.

  6. On occasion interviews may be held in Central Connecticut.

  7. Students are encouraged to visit the school and the area.

Applicants should also show ability to perform basic mathematical calculations and to achieve, after instruction, competent design expression through drawings and presentations. Capable writing skills are required for admission.

Since the program involves a great deal of public speaking, applicants must be fluent in English.

In addition, we look for strongly motivated students who are willing to engage in team work, have a profound respect for the natural world and the human beings who inhabit it, and are eager to put their personal values into positive action during the school year and afterward.

Application Procedures

Because of the small scale and intensive nature of the Spring Creek School program, the application procedure requires a substantial commitment of time from both school staff and the applicant. This process enables both to make a suitable choice. Applications are currently being accepted for the class entering in September 2010.

Prospective applicants may want to visit the school, either during an activity or at another time, before completing the application. This provides an opportunity to talk with students, review student work, and learn about staff philosophy and school operations. Interviews may be scheduled subsequently.  

The applicant is notified of the admissions decision by mail, usually within three weeks of the completed process. If an application is received after the next class is filled it will be held for review in the event that a vacancy occurs, or the application can be applied to the following academic year.

Once an applicant is accepted to the program, we will send an enrollment agreement to be signed by the prospective student. This agreement, accompanied by a deposit, admits the applicant to full participation in the activities of the school for the school year. The academic term begins the day after Labor Day, and classes are held through late June (with the exception of a two-week break in late December and a two-week spring break). Students must complete all academic and project work before graduation.

The Academic Program

The Spring Creek School of Sustainable Living offers an intensive, ten-month curriculum that introduces students to all phases of sustainable work, from residential housing and food production to regional land use studies. Students undertake design projects with contracted clients, through which they learn and apply skills from writing the initial project proposal to presenting final design plans. The program provides:

Underlying precepts of Spring Creek School curriculum

Learning by doing is the most efficient and effective way to learn. By applying classroom concepts to real projects at the residential and community scale, Spring Creek School students rapidly develop the skills and knowledge to be responsible and independent designers and planners. In turn, local citizens, communities, and non-profit organizations receive planning and design services at cost.
Clear, concise communication — oral, written, and graphic — is essential to success. The sustainable living designer must not only be able to develop reasonable designs; s/he must be able to explain why these designs work. For the public at large to understand and adopt design solutions, the reasons must survive along with the plans, long after the designer has left the scene.
The process of discovery is more effective than memorizing facts or formulas. The Spring Creek School teaches its students how to be self-educators by encouraging them to direct their own education. To this end, students identify individual educational goals at the beginning of the year, and monitor the achievement of those goals as the year progresses. This skill enables graduates to be life-long learners.
Instruction at the Spring Creek School goes beyond techniques, stressing instead the processes that organize these techniques and reveal underlying concepts. The ability to use an organized process enables the student to address any problem.

The Masters Degree

The Spring Creek School degree — a Master of Arts in Sustainable Living — is an academic one rather than a professional one. How does the degree offered by Spring Creek School resemble and differ from other programs? Both teach planning and design, at large and small scales, for human uses of the land. Both try to impart a functional design process. Yet the differences are significant.

Most graduate programs is Sustainable Living and amalgamations of other School Departments not a department of it's own. While much lip service about sustainable programs is found in many schools it tends to be shallow programs using existing courses rather than new courses required by he study of sustainable living. Many are sustainable development programs supporting the false dichotomy that we must constantally grow in material aspects to survive. But this process puts the power into the hands of the local people and does not provide support for those wishing to amass great wealth. The people live in a harmonious way which does not require constant development. The steps to implement this way of living needs to be demonstrated and researched in many ways of exhibiting a more sustainable lifestyle. Much of the work in sustainable living has been done already. Universities themselves are not sustainable requiring constant growth and the using and not replenishing of natural resources. Classes are not integrated making it difficult to use information from one class in another class. Also flexibility is key in these small group instructional settings. Not possible in the large university.

The Master of Arts in Sustainable Living offered at the Spring Creek School represents an integrated curriculum where classes complement design practice. Instruction occurs in a small, intimate, and supportive environment. There is an unambiguous emphasis on environmental responsibility, oral and written communication skills, and project management. The emphasis given human and community issues in planning and design, and oral and written communication, make this a Master of Arts program.

Graduation Requirements

In addition to successfully completing three major design projects, each student must demonstrate communication abilities through written logs, essays, project correspondence and reports, illustrative and technical graphics, and design presentations.

To receive a Master of Arts in Sustainable Living, the student must demonstrate understanding of design theory, natural and built environments, design communication, and professional development and practice.

Core faculty continually guides and evaluates student work in the studio, classroom, and individual conferences. Students at the Spring creek School do not receive grades; rather, they are expected to revise and improve their written, graphic, and project work until it meets the approval of faculty, client, and the student her/himself.

Courses are fully integrated

Illustration 2: House at Sturbridge Village Massachusetts Demonstrating Historical Sustainable Techniques

The Spring Creek School masters degree is multidisciplinary. Courses are not separate offerings that can be selected independently; rather the program is fully integrated throughout the year through instruction by core faculty, as well as through guest instructors and a wide variety of field trips.

The progression of subjects addressed during the year is shaped by the design and planning projects that are a major component of each term. Class assignments— graphic, technical and written—are dovetailed with project requirements. Classes—including field trips and guest speakers—are customarily held three days a week, with two days reserved for studio time and individual project work. Faculty are available during studio days for individual and team consultation.

Sustainable Living Process Theory

Throughout the year, seminars and discussions raise and explore fundamental questions, such as: What is the nature of ecologically based sustainable living design? Why is it practiced? How does one successfully integrate both natural and human systems? What are examples of designs that are sustainable? Is sustainability even achievable? What is the relationship of humans and nature? What are the patterns of successful design?

Natural Systems for Food Production Recreation and Habitation

Understanding the land—the natural history and ecological processes that constitute a site and its context—is fundamental to the practice of landscape design. Students spend many hours outdoors so they may better read the land and recognize possibilities for use by people as well as the desirability for protection or restricted use. Natural systems topics include landforms, soil characteristics, plant associations, ecological theories, the effect of climate and micro-climate, wetland function, forest ecology, habitation construction and retrofitting, wildlife habitat and corridors. The emphasis is on patterns and interactions of phenomena as they inform design and living.

Food Systems and Production

Through instruction and hands on practice students will look at various methods for food production and food systems. Basic soil maintenance composting greenhouse operations, permaculture and organic methods will be examined. Demonstration gardens will be worked at the Bellefonte Facility and other locations.


Through readings and discussions, students reflect on the practice of sustainable living and engage in exercises to improve oral and written expression. Readings are drawn from diverse disciplines, including geography, cultural studies, history, literature, ethicts, agriculture, construction, psychology, philosophy, aesthetics, and economics. Oral presentation skills are addressed through technical exercises (in voice, posture, control of breath) and in lessons on organization (openings, conclusions, transitions, and narrative techniques). Writing skills are honed through exercises in style, drafting, and revision; through practice in different forms of creative non-fiction and professional writing (proposals, resumes, reports); and through reviews of grammar, punctuation, and relevant vocabulary.

Design Communication Graphics

Graphic skills are developed to enhance students’ design thinking, to communicate information accurately, and to express ideas effectively. A balance of hand-drawing (perspectives, sections, plan view) and digital techniques (basic photo manipulation, PowerPoint, CAD, geographic information systems, 3-D modeling, desktop publishing) is presented.

Technical Measurement of Processes

The techniques and principles for evaluating ecological and physical processes will be utilized. The importance of measurement and alternative evaluation is essential. On a micro scale for the heat loss in a single wall to the rate of fossil fuel depletion world wide are areas needed to be understood.. Modifying and implementing designs are introduced during term projects and through separate exercises. Students learn the basics of topographic surveying, data plotting and interpolating, and producing maps and plans. They also learn how to analyze site features and how to solve site engineering problems, such as drainage and grading. They study municipal planning and zoning, standards for parking lots, retaining walls, structures, road alignment, and structures. Construction documents and details, including the physical characteristics of materials and cost estimating, are also presented in the design curriculum.

Illustration 3: Local students and residents attend a short course in organic raised bed gardening.

Sustainable living is a lifestyle that attempts to reduce an individual or society's use of the Earth's natural resource and his/her own resources. Practitioners of sustainable living often attempt to reduce their carbon footprint by altering methods of transportation, energy consumption and diet. Proponents of sustainable living aim to conduct their lives in manners that are consistent with sustainability, in natural balance and respectful of humanity's symbiotic relationship with the Earth's natural ecology and cycles. The practice and general philosophy of ecological living is highly interrelated with the overall principles of sustainable development.

General Topics

What some call the perfect storm for today’s civilization -- climate change, the

reaching and passing of peak oil, and the current financial crises is calling for different ways to live. As oil increases in price, the costs for those in poorly insulated homes will be high and the experience uncomfortable. People need to be shown how to live with less oil and to be provided with examples of alternative ways to live. This program will follow Sustainable techniques and develop techniques for others to use. The program itself is sustainable and cost effective. The structure of this program is the development of a model that will be embraced and followed by others.

This is a 30 credit program offered in nine months to College Graduates or those with equivalent experience. Students will be able to apply current techniques to all aspects of Sustainable Living, Teach others how to live sustainable and know how to keep current in new sustainable developments. Classes will be held on Mondays and Wednesdays with other times to practice hands on and prepare reports. The schedule allows students to attend special lectures, to complete a field trip or to accommodate a Guest Lecturer. Tuesday and Tursdays Lab days with Wednesday afternoon open for student presentations. Friday is generally a work day. The schedule of everyone in the same class provides opportunities to take advantage of otherwise conflicting events. One topic per month allows flexibility in the program and makes it easier for students to use different methods for learning. In the winter periods we will attempt to hold the classes in a warm climate. This allows for a different perspective and saves on heating costs during January and February. The program is flexible in order to take advantage of extracurricular activities.

This program is designed to cover many important areas and is designed so that participants will--

Know enough to practice the techniques

Know enough to teach others

Know enough to be convinced it can be done and

Know how to live sustainably,while keeping current current in this field.

While the course will cover construction and proper energy saving techniques not all will decide to complete a deep renovation of a home, build their own home or to develop a village. But they will know how to do these tasks using proper techniques. Others will do work exchange to aid them in living in a sustainable way. No one person can do it all. It takes a Village…

Illustration 4: Sun's energy goes into the grass and the energy is transformed into a working animal.

The Center for Sustainable Living is located at 113 Buffalo Run Road Bellefonte PA. Most classes will be held there. It is an 1860 Cape built by a Blacksmith. The property will be made energy efficient and sustainable while maintaining its original character of an 1860 home. We will construct a Blacksmith Shop.


1. Introduction to Sustainable Living

Review literature



Sun energy flow charts

Phillips House NH*

Housing, Food Production, Heating / Cooling, Social Aspects

Construction Process*

2. Heating Cooling Electricity Water

Heat Transfer Chemistry Physics heat loss thermal bridging

Water collection and reuse

Electrical Systems

Plumbing Systems

Building Systems

Solar Systems

Photovoltaic Systems

Cost efficiency and evaluation of alternatives.

Construction Process*

3. Villages Design for Efficiency and Sustainability

Agricultural Systems

Blending needs, wants and existing facilities into design

Rob Hopkins Transition Village

Making Cities Sustainable

Cuba example


Shaker Village*

Sturbridge Village*

Mystic Seaport*

Plymouth Plantation*


Twin Oaks*

Earth Haven


Future communities

4. Structures Design for Sustainability

Single family

Home Design Chief Architect or Revit

Standard Design

Cost small footprint vs. large

Heat loss / Heat gain

Utilities supply


Meeting House

EcoVillage design




Retrofit for efficiency

Green Builder

Leeds 30-40% efficient

passivhaus 80-90% efficient

5. Social Relationships in a Village or Urban Setting

Early Villages Social

Pitfalls D. Christensen

Zegg Forum

Dependency leads to tolerance

Decision Making

Governance types

6. Food Production and Preservation

Square Foot Gardening

Organic / pesticide free*









7. Financial Considerations

Alternative Currencies

Banking Systems


Seed loans

Low interest Loans

Importance of Debt Free


Ithaca Dollars

Shumaker Library*

8. Experiential in Green Technologies

Hands on in an area of choice, reskilling or home based business or experience in a Sustainable Career

9. Thesis or Research

Add to the knowledge base with permission of Adviser. Other courses and independent study is an alternative option to the Theses.

* Possible field experiences. Experiences may not happen during the particular learning segment. The Gardening Segment in March is not a good time to visit as it is too early for the plants. Rather we will look at a number of Gardens in various stages of development through out the Spring.

The work/class schedule may be altered to take advantage of lectures or trips to visit other facilities. An advantage of this type of program is the flexibility in the schedule. If there is something to see with all the students in the same class it is not a problem to rearrange the schedule to accommodate changes. Work will pattern practices learned in lecture. We will accept approximately sixteen to eighteen students this Fall. If you wish to be considered please contact Dean.

Classes will begin the day after Labor Day. The program is planned to be completed by June 2011. There will be a two week break from mid December until classes begin the first week of January. In January and February we will attempt to hold classes in a warmer location.

Design Practice I — Fall Term

In the fall term following the fall orientation trip, each student is assigned an individual client selected from property owners in nearby communities who have contacted the school requesting site design and planning services. The site is chosen only if it provides an opportunity to address a full spectrum of site issues and not merely a planting plan.

Rob Hopkins

Although the focus is on a small area, the residential project is never simple. Students learn design principles through application of a problem-solving process. This involves eliciting and interpreting client needs, developing a proposal for design services, analyzing and assessing site conditions, researching legal constraints, conceptualizing design solutions, and developing specific plans and recommendations and developing a sustainable living plan.

Beginning with the fall term—and continuing throughout the year—students present weekly their progress on the project before faculty and classmates. These presentations provide an opportunity to integrate their growing understanding of site conditions with new skills in graphic representations and oral articulation. Both faculty and students respond to each presentation with critiques and recommendations.

Near the end of the term, students formally present preliminary designs to their clients and guest critics. The comments received help refine the final design plan, which students complete and present to their clients by the end of the fall term. Projects are completed when student, faculty, and clients are satisfied that the objectives stated in the proposal have been met and the products—drawings and design recommendations—approach professional standards.

The classes held during the fall term, at the school and in the field, introduce and reinforce the professional skills necessary to complete the residential design project. 

Residential projects are varied and challenging:

Winter Term Projects

Design Practice II 

In the winter term, the projects increase in scope and complexity and are undertaken by teams of students for public and nonprofit clients. Typically:

Students produce a written report that summarizes the design and planning process and recommendations, and accompanying maps, charts, calculations and other illustrations.

Students are assigned to teams based on their individual goals, and the specific needs of the project. Team members learn to exercise ethical leadership, collaboration, and management skills. Weekly presentations at the school are often rehearsals for team presentations to boards of directors, planning boards, conservation commissions, or public hearings.

Following a formal presentation to critics at the school, the entire project is summarized in a substantial report. A CD-ROM of the material is also prepared for the client.

Community projects stretch the capabilities of students, who must work with their clients even as they learn the basics of town and conservation planning. Often projects are complicated by diverse client interests or opinions on land-use options. The courses and guest speakers integrate training in diverse fields while introducing students to career options. Winter term projects will include medium sized projects with a complete design of the facility.

Illustration 5: Heavy work with no Oil!

Spring Term Projects

Design Practice III — Spring Term

Following a two-week break in classes, the spring term begins. With consideration of students’ interest and educational goals, expressed preference for projects or teammates, and team members’ complementary abilities relative to project goals, the faculty assigns students to team projects in April.

Typically, the second community projects are smaller in scale and more detailed in design than the winter projects. They often require specific knowledge of issues such as storm-water management, erosion control, road alignment, long-term management techniques, ecological restoration, barrier-free access, zoning rules, building codes, planting plans based on native plant communities, and the preparation of construction details. Most design plans include cost estimates and a phased plan for implementation. A brief summary document may be requested by a client, but a set of drafted documents with extensive explanatory notes on the drawings is the typical product.

By the spring term, students have become increasingly familiar with the design process and dynamics of working as part of a team. Weekly presentations demonstrate a more rapid development of site assessment and design alternatives, which enables teams to achieve a greater level of detail on these projects. Students are increasingly effective in their critique of each others project work, regularly adding to suggestions that faculty make. Classes continue to supplement the project work, increasing in complexity and detail to match that required of the designs. Here the student may start to integrate their own area of interest in consultation with the faculty. Feel free to ask questions and make comments to Dean at U.S. (814) 321 6982 or drdeanfenton@gmail.com All comments are welcome. Thank you Dean