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Q&A with Melissa Kauffman, on Expansion Plans for Millbrook Marsh Nature Center

by on February 26, 2019 5:00 AM

Melissa Kauffman has been working for Centre Region Parks and Recreation since 2009, when she was hired as seasonal program coordinator.

Since then, Kauffman has been promoted to supervisor at the Millbrook Marsh Nature Center. She is a Penn State alumna and has teaching certificates in agricultural, environmental, and general sciences.

Town&Gown spoke with Kauffman to get an update on expansion plans at the center.

T&G: How long has the expansion been in development?

Kauffman: Phase I of the Spring Creek Education Building was completed in 2011, which provided an opportunity for Millbrook Marsh Nature Center to offer year-round programming for the first time. Limitations of the current facility became apparent with increased popularity of the Nature Center between 2011 and 2016. These limitations include that the Spring Creek Education Building is the only temperature-controlled facility on site, is restricted to 50 people per floor, and can only accommodate one group at a time, due to size and sound restraints. In 2016, staff and Millbrook Marsh Advisory Committee members worked with a local architect to update the Phase II plans to meet the community needs of the nature center, and we continue to work towards project completion. 

T&G: How has the center's popularity grown in the past few years?

Kauffman: Over the past 21 years, Millbrook Marsh Nature Center has grown exponentially from the early programming plans of 1997, to 3,000 visitors for programs and events in the year 2000, to more than 18,500 visitors in 2018. Visitor growth of 44 percent occurred between 2011 and 2016, and we saw additional growth of nearly 32 percent in 2016 through 2018.

T&G: Will the center be increasing the educational opportunities available to the public? What kind of programs will be offered?  

Kauffman: Absolutely. In 2016, with the assistance of a fundraising consultant, Millbrook Marsh conducted a feasibility study to assess the needs for the nature center in the community. Outcomes show that 100 percent of respondents believe that the Centre Region benefits from places like Millbrook Marsh. Respondents shared that they specifically want to see Millbrook Marsh expand the number and variety of naturalist-led programs for children and adults, improve the current facility, and hold additional events.

The Phase II expansion will provide classroom space to expand the Puddle Jumpers nature play program for preschool-aged children, offer new discovery-based programming for children of all ages, and hold workshops for adults on topics within the natural sciences, history, culture, and art. A new event space on the first floor will host programs and events for large groups, such as concerts, puppet shows, educational presentations, and more. Spaces in the facility will also be available for community use through our rental program. 

T&G: What existing things around Millbrook Marsh will be repaired/expanded other than the education center during Phase II?

Kauffman: A Welcome Pavilion to include four family restrooms, a water fountain, and water bottle filling station, benches, and visitor information and displays will be added to the site as part of Phase II. The Welcome Pavilion is a valuable addition to Millbrook Marsh as the public currently does not have access to a water fountain or restroom facilities when staff is not on site. Located off from the visitor parking area, the pavilion will also be of great use when schools and summer camps visit for field trips.

A rendering of the first floor of Phase II of the Spring Creek Education Building at Millbrook Marsh Nature Center.

T&G: When is the expansion going to begin and when can the community expect to see changes being made to the center? 

Kauffman: The Phase II expansion of the Spring Creek Education Building will more than double the square footage of the existing facility, providing two additional classrooms, a large event space to accommodate up to 120 people, and two additional restrooms. The existing space will be converted into a welcome area with hands-on educational displays.

Construction is targeted to begin at the end of 2020 or early 2021, pending funding. The Phase II expansion is aiming to achieve Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Silver Certification with sustainable features including, but not limited to, solar panels to provide clean and affordable energy, incorporation of recycled materials, and energy efficient facility design. Phase I of the facility received LEED Silver Certification in 2012. 

T&G: Have fundraising efforts been approached differently for this expansion, compared to previous fundraising?

Kauffman: Our fundraising efforts for Phase II are similar to Phase I; providing opportunities for community support and foundation gifts, as well as submitting proposals for state grant funding.

T&G: How is the center raising money through the community?

Kauffman: Gifts can be made in a number of ways, including through in-person, online, endowment funds, and corporate giving. Information about the expansion and giving opportunities, including naming rights, is available on our website ( I’ve had the good fortune of walking the property with community members while sharing our vision for the expansion and I always welcome the chance to speak with new and ongoing supporters. I invite anyone who would like to learn more about the project to connect with me at the nature center. (Phone: (814) 235-7819; Email: [email protected])


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