Campus Renovation Project

Click here to donate to the Capt. Thomas M. Kelly Biological Station

In 1989 Thomas Kelly founded the Inland Seas Education Association with the vision of impacting the future of the Great Lakes by educating students. He was extremely proud of the 100,000 Schoolship students that crossed the ships’ decks during his tenure as the first executive director of the organization. His vision had always been that some of these students would go on to become scientists, dedicating their careers to solving the problems our Great Lakes face.

One regret Tom shared before his passing was never finding a way to pay off the debt incurred when purchasing and remodeling our incredible lakefront facility—the former Northern Lumber building at 100 Dame Street in Suttons Bay, MI.  The facility is in need of maintenance and repairs as well as reconfiguration so that we may better meet the needs of our students and grow for the future.

The development of the Inland Seas Capt. Thomas M. Kelly Biological Station will help bring Tom’s vision full circle. The renovations to the facility will enhance ISEA’s ability to inspire students to care for our Great Lakes resources and open their eyes to the exciting careers that benefit the Great Lakes. Providing a research laboratory for those dedicated to securing the future of our Great Lakes will also be possible with these upgrades. The reduction of long-term liabilities, student dorm space, and maintenance free enhancements are key components of this project. Inland Seas can think of no better way to honor Tom Kelly than by continuing his vision.

Learn more about the Inland Seas Captain Thomas M. Kelly Biological Station below and check back regularly for updates.

Mortgage burning celebration
  • Phase I involves paying off the current mortgage on the building—a cost of $367,000. We are happy to report that with generous donor support this was completed in early 2018!
  • Phase II of the project focused on exterior improvements that are sorely needed. Most of the old storage barn was removed. Improvements were made to the outdoor classroom and surrounding area. Landscaping focused on more green space and the reduction of long-term maintenance costs. A solar power array capable of generating 90-95% of our electrical needs has also been installed. This phase is complete.
  • Phase III (2019) will complete the renovation of the facility which includes the addition of dormitory-style living quarters to serve 4th-12th grade students attending ISEA programs, groups participating in ISEA programming during the summer (e.g., boy/girl scouts, camps, etc.), and mature adults seeking educational tours. Housing options will also be available for individuals seeking a place to work on their research such as visiting college professors and graduate/college students engaging in meaningful Great Lakes research and ISEA interns. The addition of shower/restroom facilities and lab upgrades are also part of this remodeling phase. Upgrades to the parking lot and final landscaping will finish the project.

Those visiting for learning and research purposes will have access to the schooners Inland Seas and Utopia, ISEA’s whaleboat, and science laboratory and equipment. Additionally, partnerships with local organizations such as Leo Creek Preserve, TART Trails, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, and many others will enhance the learning experience for those who use the biological station. ISEA has bicycles, standup paddleboards, and kayaks for the educational and/or recreational use of our participants.

People protect what they love. The biological station will give people an opportunity to experience a deeper appreciation of the Great Lakes through additional learning and recreation opportunities. While the completed Inland Seas Capt. Thomas M. Kelly Biological Station will allow ISEA to expand and enhance programming, accommodate more student groups and researchers, and increase revenue while decreasing operating costs, the greatest impact will be on the Great Lakes.

  • Schools and groups often travel more than three hours one-way to attend ISEA programs. The biological station will provide the opportunity to deepen their experience. In addition to a half-day Schoolship experience, they can add a Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) Underwater Challenge program, Cycle the Leelanau Trail program, or a shore side education program. The ability to spend the night will also give them recreation time to enjoy the Great Lakes.
  • The Thomas M. Kelly Biological Station will provide housing for summer interns; raising the appeal of an ISEA internship and helping ISEA continue to attract the best candidates. College interns are vital to the success of Inland Seas and the Great Lakes. Their energy, knowledge, and experiences are an asset to the programs they facilitate. Many leave ISEA with a deeper desire to work in some capacity to protect the Great Lakes.

  • Protecting the Great Lakes involves research. University professors and students who study the Great Lakes need locations to complete their research. The Thomas M. Kelly Biological Station will have space for researchers to spend one or more days conducting their research. In addition to laboratory space and equipment, they will have access to watercraft and housing.
  • The renovation of the campus allows ISEA to strengthen the boat building program by relocating to Traverse City where there are more participants and volunteers. An increase in boat building programs is anticipated. It also allows for the collaboration with the Maritime Heritage Alliance at the Discovery Center Great Lakes. Maintenance of the schooners will be able to be done in the new location, saving costs and making haul in/out more efficient.
  • Individuals who visit the Grand Traverse region in the summer come here because of the lakes. The more in-depth the experience, the greater the appreciation individuals have for the region. As Inland Seas continues to provide charter opportunities to groups throughout the summer, the Captain Thomas M. Kelly Biological Station will be another avenue for large groups to extend their experience with the Great Lakes.

ISEA has raised 91% of the $1.5 million needed for the project. Your philanthropic support is needed to help secure our vision for the future and the vitality of the Great Lakes. Our goal is to complete fundraising for the project by the end of December 2018.

Donations can be made payable to ISEA and mailed to PO Box 218, Suttons Bay, MI 49684. Online donations to the project can also be made using the button below.

Donate Now

as of 12/7/2018

We are grateful to the following donors who have contributed or pledged $5,000 or more to the project.

  • Lois Bahle and Larry Mawby – recreation room
  • John and Tina Bevington – student dorm room
  • Gordon and Susan Brown – adult bunk room
  • Laura Deibel
  • Bob and Nancy Doughty – adult bunk room
  • Mike and Rhea Dow
  • Edmund F. and Virginia B. Ball Foundation
  • Martha Garber
  • Rodney and Catherine Groleau
  • Dick Grout – adult bunk room
  • Herman Miller Foundation – solar array
  • Robert Howard
  • Harold and Pam Lassers
  • NSF Foundation
  • Roberta Poor
  • James Richards
  • Rollin M Gerstacker Foundation
  • Suttons Bay-Leelanau Rotary Club – student dorm room
  • The San Francisco Foundation
  • William and Marie Carls Foundation
  • An Anonymous Donor

When will the project be completed?

  • We anticipate the renovation will be complete by June 2019.

How much will the project cost?

  • $1.5 million
  • Phase I: Pay off existing building mortgage – $367,000 (Completed!)
  • Phase II: Exterior Improvements (remove old barn, install solar array, renovate building exterior and entryway, update outdoor classroom, landscaping) – $315,000 (Completed!)
  • Phase III: Interior Renovation (student bunkrooms, shower/restroom upgrades, laboratory, cost effective, eco-friendly lighting upgrades, relocate boat building program. parking lot upgrades and final landscaping) – $818,000

Is the whole building being renovated?

  • The upper level of the facility will remain the same, housing the Education Center and Invasive Species Museum, the Suttons Bay Visitor’s Center, and the ISEA offices.

How many students will the renovation accommodate for sleeping?

  • A total of 40 people (students and teachers) can stay overnight in the facility.
  • The three large rooms will sleep 8, 12, and 12.
  • The three smaller rooms will sleep 4, 2, and 2.

Still have questions? Enter them here.




Bio Station News

Biological Station Unveiling

ISEA Pays off Building Mortgage


“As an environmental education organization, we need to practice the stewardship behaviors we wish to inspire.

We will be increasing our green space, generating our electricity, and reducing maintenance costs through the materials we are using.”

Fred Sitkins, Executive Director

Sign-up for news, events and other ISEA information