Groundbreaking of ELC’s New Education & Event Pavilion

Vero Beach, Fla. — The Environmental Learning Center will host a groundbreaking ceremony on April 14 at 11:30 a.m. at the construction site of their newest campus enhancement, the Thomas R. Schidel Education and Event Pavilion. 

Once Mr. Schidel stepped forward to fund this central focus of the nonprofit’s master plan, much thought and planning went into the creation of a truly remarkable facility for a wide variety of educational opportunities, community events and festivals. “This is a real game changer for the ELC,” said Don Barr, ELC Board Chair. After conducting multiple bids and interviews with local companies, the ELC Master Plan Committee worked on the final plans with John Binkley of the architectural firm Edlund Dritenbas and Binkley (EDB), John Blum of the engineering firm Carter and Associates, Michael O’ Neill of Barth Construction and Robin Pelensky of Surlaterre Landscape Architects.  ELC appreciated the many companies which bid on the various aspects of the project and is confident that they chose a strong team to make this project a reality for the community. The facility boasts a multipurpose outdoor classroom and event space/stage that can seat 80-100 people, indoor and outdoor kitchen areas, a Live Oak ringed grass oval that can accommodate up to 1,000 guests and handicap accessible restrooms with showers. This addition will allow ample space for attendees to distance comfortably for any number of public or private gatherings. 

John Daniels, ELC Vice Board Chair said, “Once completed, the Thomas R. Schidel Education and Event Pavilion will represent the first significant step forward taken by the ELC towards realizing the vision set out in its Campus Master planning work several years ago of transforming our unique Wabasso Island campus into a more compelling place to visit for environmental education, science, human and environmental health, and nature experiences for all ages. Not only will this new facility enable new programmatic revenues, but it will also incorporate many environmentally friendly features consistent with our mission.”

Barbara Schlitt Ford, the Executive Director of the ELC said, “The ELC team is so thankful to Mr. Schidel for his investment in our critical mission of connecting folks to nature and empowering eco-champions. This versatile structure will make our unique campus an even stronger asset for the community. We view the ELC as a central hub for outdoor adventure, learning and celebration – a regional destination for residents and visitors to unplug, discover, and connect.” 

This state-of-the-art venue is targeted to be a strong revenue producer for the organization. Strategic planning for earned income production is a reality that nonprofits are embracing so that they do not need to be fully dependent on donor/grantor funding or fundraising events. The ELC does not receive any government funding. 

Rustic venues are at a premium for outdoor learning space, events, festivals, exhibitions and private rentals for corporate events, banquets, weddings, retreats, youth trips and workshops. The possibilities are endless. They will be focused on events that are mission-aligned. The beautiful setting in the middle of the IRL and the ELC’s commitment to sustainable living is what will set this project apart from others in the community. 

Mr. Schidel stated “We are thrilled that this project has been given the go-ahead to move forward. I feel confident that it will be put to good use by the wonderful team at the ELC to provide education to benefit our environment and allow for so many other open air community events. It will be a full-circle venture commemorating my deep affinity for nature and I hope it brings joy to all who experience it.” 

The groundbreaking ceremony will be attended only by a small number of invitees due to COVID safety measures that are still in place on the campus. The public is encouraged to attend virtually via Facebook live at 11:30 on April 14 at 

The ELC was created over 30 years ago by local visionaries who foresaw the need to protect this native habitat and worked with the county to minimally develop this gem of a property for both nature immersion and environmental education. ELC is most well-known for the thousands of students who visit the campus annually in partnership with the school district for hands-on feet wet education. Of the 64 acres, over 50 acres remain in a native state with miles of boardwalk and trails leading to four separate docks on the lagoon through incredible mangrove forests. 

To raise the additional $100,000 for completion of the pavilion with high-tech AV, tables, chairs, appliances, native landscaping, etc., loyal donors Tim and Carol Buhl have offered an up to $50,000 match donation for any funds raised from the public now through the end of their fiscal year June 30. Those who wish to double the impact of their donation should contact Executive Director, Barbara Schlitt Ford at or 772-589-5050. 

The second phase of improvements planned for the destination include a FUN Zone (Families Unplugged in Nature) wild play area for children and a splash pad in front of the pavilion. The ELC will continue to raise funds for these two projects.  

The Environmental Learning Center is a 64-acre 501(c)(3) not-for-profit environmental education and nature center. Our mission is to educate, inspire and empower all people to be active stewards of the environment and their own well-being. The ELC is located in Vero Beach at the western base of the Wabasso Bridge and is open seven days a week to serve the community through field trips, camps, year-round programs for youth and adults, nature art displays and more. ELC’s campus includes a 1,500-gallon aquarium and touch tank, butterfly garden, native plant garden, children’s play areas, miles of boardwalks & trails, as well as watersports and pontoon boat eco-ventures that help increase access to nature for people of all ages.

Nikki Kalin
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