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Construction of ELC centerpiece pavilion set for fall

Photo: Rendering of the new ELC pavilion.

Construction of the education and event pavilion that will be the centerpiece of the Environmental Learning Center’s multimillion-dollar master plan expansion is scheduled to get under way by fall and be completed in the first quarter of 2021, according to ELC leaders.

Conceived over several years, the ambitious project is intended to bring the county’s flagship environmental organization “to the next level, as a major, regional environmental education resource,” Executive Director Barbara Schlitt Ford said.

Located on a 64-acre property on an island in the Indian River Lagoon, the nonprofit ELC was founded in 1988 by members of the Pelican Island Audubon Society, with strong community support, which continues to this day.

The pavilion project was funded by a $1 million donation from local resident Tom Schidel and will be named the Thomas R. Schidel Education and Event Pavilion. A members-only BBQ is scheduled to take place April 4 on the pavilion construction site, with Schidel as guest of honor, though plans could change due to the COVID-19 precautions.

When all pavilion design details are completed and the county gives the green light, the ELC will submit permit applications to the county, St. Johns River Water Management District and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

“When the permitting process is complete,” says project coordinator Tim Buhl, “we’ll go out to bid on the building contractor.”

This first piece in the multiyear, multimillion-dollar master plan is impressive: The 2,500-square-foot pavilion will accommodate table seating for 120 people, or chair seatingĀ  for 250 on its stage and will be “perfect” for a wide variety of community and corporate events, as well as performances, Schlitt Ford says.

The pavilion will also house two permanent family bathrooms and there will be a flexible, multipurpose prep/kitchen for catered events or theatrical backstage work.

For concerts and other large gatherings, the 9,000-square-foot grassy oval in front of the pavilion is designed to handle up to 1,100 people.

Schlitt Ford stresses that as many sustainable building practices and other green principles as possible will be utilized throughout the construction, including living walls.

Another element in the master plan coming down the road is the FUN Zone. FUN stands for Families Unplugged in Nature, Schlitt Ford says, and the feature is designed to enhance both physical and mental health by getting families outside, away from cell phones and iPads, employing the ELC “as an extension of their own backyard, to help kids and adults step off the hamster wheel for a while.”

“We have an amazing campus on a beautiful island in the Indian River Lagoon. We want to share our plans with everyone. Everybody’s pretty pumped about it.”