Two Years After Hurricane Irma, Environmental Center Remains Closed

Hidden inside Kendall Campus is a nine-acre lot of fertile land filled with native flora and fauna.  

Located just west of the baseball field, the Environmental Center is a first-hand look into Florida’s natural ecosystem—evergreen canopies that shade the rocky, limestone terrain and palm-sized saw palmetto plants surround a pristine lake.

It once offered locale for birthday parties, class field trips and technical courses in ecomanagement and plant care. 

That was before the center closed in September 2017 following the remnants of Hurricane Irma. It left the center ravaged with plant debris and fallen trees, caused by wind and water damage. 

Two years later, the center remains closed. Although the storm’s debris has been cleared, there are still structural issues with facility’s buildings that need to be addressed. It is unclear when the facility will reopen. 

Brian Stokes, director of campus administration at Kendall Campus, told The Reporter he was not at liberty to say what structures inside the property are still damaged or when the College plans on repairing it. 

“If you ask me in a couple of months, I can give you an answer,” Stokes said. 

Gardening and horticulture technical courses the center once offered have remained closed. Around 30 to 50 students maintained general upkeep and cleaned the center as volunteers every semester before the closure.

“It’s a huge wasted opportunity,” said Danilo De-la-Torre, former president of Kendall Campus’ Yes! Club. “In a time where sustainability is increasingly important, [Miami Dade College isn’t] stepping up and taking advantage of it.” 

De-la-Torre wanted to plan a trip to the Center with the Yes! Club two years ago but was unsuccessful and resorted to other events for the club instead. 

“A lot of our events were on-campus clean ups but not a lot of service learning events. If we wanted to do something different, we had to do some gardening near the Koffee House,” said De-la-Torre. “If Kendall Campus could’ve provided that [access to the Center], we would have had much cooler events.”

Aside from occasional gazes, De-la-Torre never got to see the center while he was a student. 

Stokes said that the College’s department heads will hold a cabinet meeting to discuss the status and future plans for the center. A meeting date has not been made official.  

“Different departments need to okay it,” Stokes said. 

Over the last two years, the College has worked with Arbor Care, a storm recovery and tree care company, to pick up plant debris and maintain overgrowth from plants, trees and weeds in the center. They visit the center at least once a week. 

“The College Leadership is evaluating the needs of the Environmental Center,” Stokes said. “The academic and student programs and services that will be provided at the Environmental Center require careful evaluation and must align with facilities upgrades that allow these programs and services maximum opportunity for success.”

Staff writer Heidi Perez-Moreno contributed to this story.