Wertheim Conservatory to Reopen in 2023

Samuel Larreal / Staff Writer

FIU’s Wertheim Conservatory is projected to be open to the public by spring 2023 after six years of pending repairs. 

Closed in late 2017 due to infrastructural decay and damages caused by Hurricane Irma, the Wertheim Conservatory renovation process is projected to be completed during the upcoming fall semester, and fully operational in a few months

According to Lisardo Ortiz, the project manager in charge of the conservatory, renovation efforts have been significantly delayed due to supply chain issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Material delivery timelines doubled due to the pandemic. Greenhouse exhaust fans, for example, had an estimated delivery time of two months; the material took four months to get to us,” said Stobs Brothers Construction in a statement to PantherNOW. 

Initially projected to be re-opened in November 2018, the Wertheim Conservatory has been shut down for almost six years.

“Construction Area Keep Out” in front Wertheim Conservatory Entrance // Samuel Larreal for PantherNOW

According to Ortiz, the project’s main objectives are to repair the existing damages to the greenhouse and upgrade the electrical infrastructure, ventilation system  and plumbing. Contractors will also install a new fogging system and climate control arrays. 

Due to the high humidity of the installations, climate control for the greenhouse was a significant challenge years before closing for renovations. 

“The electronics for controlling the watering and the cooling were originally put on the inside and they corroded really quickly,”  said FIU professor Steven Oberbauer, chair of  International Center for Tropical Botany “The system hasn’t worked properly for probably 20 years.” 

Despite the lack of climate control, plants in the greenhouse managed to do relatively well due to the natural weather conditions in Miami. 

 FIU Botanical Curator Dr. Andre A. Naranjo, who will be in charge of Wertheim Conservatory oversight and long term maintenance, said the greenhouse will be a space for the academic development of biology students. 

“Students will be the ones to most benefit from a renovated conservatory,”  said Naranjo. “They will have access to the conservatory for uses such as personal research projects, classroom demonstrations and lab assignments.”

For Oberbauer this new renovation provides unique research and educational opportunities, providing students with first-hand experience of plants’ evolutionary adaptations. 

“We live in one of the very few places in the United States that can grow tropical plants,” said Oberbauer.  “We can show students how these plants develop interesting adaptations in their physiology and pollination systems that have coevolved with animals.” 

For Oberbauer, having a curated greenhouse on campus will make field trips and demonstrations more accessible for professors and students. 

“Things that students should know about plants and having a display right there where we can just walk over there and see has an amazing educational value,” said Oberbauer. 

According to Oberbauer, the greenhouse will also provide a space for students to relax and be in contact with nature.

In the last couple of years, college students have faced unusually high levels of stress and anxiety. 

Oberbauer stated that spaces like the greenhouse, specifically designed to be aesthetically pleasing, are an effective way for improving their mood and mental health.

“After COVID, we have an epidemic of stressed undergraduate students,” said Oberbauer. “To have this beautiful space where you can just go in there and be calm and forget about the outside world for a while will be of great value for everyone.” 

Inside of the Wertheim Conservatory / Samuel Larreal