New Visitor Pavilion opens at MDC Environmental Center

At Environmental Center opening are (l-r) Thomas Murphy, Coastal Construction; Hamed Rodriguez, Architects Inc.; Dr. Lourdes Oroza, president of MDC Kendall Campus, and MDC president Dr. Eduardo J. Padrón.

Monthly visitors to Miami Dade College’s Environmental Center at the Kendall Campus now have a place to learn and study the South Florida habitats for its unique flora and fauna.

On Oct. 2, a ribbon-cutting opened a newly built Visitor Pavilion with college officials joined by administrators, staff and more than 25 contractor and sub-contractors who worked on the project and provided extensive donated services, noted David Lotker, program manager for the center.

A $142,500 grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development was an initial funding source for the project, aided in large measure by an estimated $100,000 in contractor donations or reduced costs, he said.

The 700-square-foot pavilion, described as an “off the grid” state-of-the-art facility, utilizes solar panels, a composting toilet, and rooftop rainwater collector plus other features designed to LEED Platinum standards. Locally harvested materials and reused wood provided mulch around the building grounds.

Campus president Lourdes Oroza described the adjoining pine rockland nature preserve as an “oasis in the heart of Kendall” with 10,000 visitors annually, including school, Scouts and college groups. Located on a strip of land on SW 113th Place in the northwest corner of the campus, the Environmental Center opens for public visits the second Saturday of each month from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m

The wilderness setting allows exploration of hammocks, organic and butterfly gardens, an authentic chickee hut and feeding fish from a dock on a three-acre lake, with Jake Tucker, an experienced naturalist who guides visitors and an occasional nature-themed private birthday party.

“A growing body of evidence that early and frequent exposure to play and exploration in nature can be potent therapy for depression, obesity and attention deficit disorder,” Lotker explained, noting preserve visitors can check 300-plus species of plants and trees, migrating birds, turtles, tortoises, fish and reptilian life.

“Environmentally based education has shown to improve standardized test scores, GPAs, problem-solving skills, critical thinking, decision making and creativity. New research has shown that exposure to nature can affect our priorities and alter what we think is important in life,” Lotker concluded. “Our values shift from personal gain to a broader focus on community and connection with others.”

To sample the peaceful surroundings of the Environmental Center or schedule a Nature Adventure Tour for a group, call 305-237-0905.

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