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After Doral garage collapse, MDC students learn new routine and survivors mourn

The campus at Miami Dade College West now sits empty, save for the investigators, the engineers and others shifting through mounds of rubble, seeking clues to why a section of a five-story parking garage came crashing down six weeks ago, killing four workers.

The school’s 8,000 students from the Doral campus have been shifted to other MDC sites, grabbing buses at the International Mall that drop them at the various locations so that they can stay on their same class schedule.

Morning classes have been moved to the MDC North campus near the Opa-locka airport. Evening classes are at Ronald Reagan Senior High School and some non-credit classes are at the Kendall campus.

“Overall things have gone smoothly considering the circumstances,” said MDC spokesman Juan Mendieta. “The safety of our students and faculty is a top priority, and if we need to inconvenience people for now, that’s something we have to be willing to do.”

Students will return in January to the West campus for the spring semester. But for now, they must cope with the disruption.

As the largest college in the country with 174,000 students at eight campuses, MDC draws students from all walks of life. Many work part time or have families, making it hard to accommodate schedule changes.

While many have been able to continue their studies uninterrupted after the shutdown, some were forced to withdraw because they were not able to accommodate the changes, Mendieta said.

For student Shadille Estepan, the added travel squeezed into an already tight schedule makes it even harder to get to class on time.

She gets out of class in Kendall at 8:15 a.m. and her next class starts at 9:50 a.m., which was manageable when it was at the West campus. Now, the trek to the North campus at rush hour makes for some tense mornings.

Still, Estepan, MDC West’s student body president, said the whole school community has been “very understanding of the situation.” She commended the administration — and the bus drivers — for the way they’ve handled logistics.

“A couple students might not find themselves with the right amount of patience, but students just have to know to plan ahead,” she said.

For Alexandra Castillo, a 19-year-old business major in her first semester, taking classes at a different campus has given her a chance to know a different part of South Florida and a different student body.

She said although she appreciated the convenience of the West Campus close to her Doral home, studying at North this semester is “like a real college” with more opportunity to get involved with clubs and other student groups.

While arrangements are being made to return students to the campus, there still is no timetable for the rebuilding of the portion of the $22.5 million parking garage that crashed down midday on Oct. 10.

Four workers — Carlos Hurtado de Mendoza, 48, Jose Calderon, 60, Samuel Perez, 53, and Robert Budhoo, 53 — died. Several others were injured, but no students were hurt.

Ajax, the company contracted to build the 1,500 space parking structure, had no previous safety incidents. The cause of the accident is under investigation.

Meanwhile, Laurel Budhoo, said the death of her husband of 34 years is “like a nightmare still.”

For more than a week, her family held vigil at the construction site while workers picked through tons of concrete, moving slowly on what was left of the unstable structure, trying to get to Robert Budhoo’s body, buried underneath twisted steel and broken slabs of concrete.

The family had a closed-casket funeral and she said she never got the chance to say a proper goodbye.

“I shared everything with him,” she said. “He was my best friend.”

Even in the loneliness of losing her life companion, Budhoo said she wanted to express her gratitude to everyone who supported for family.

“The firefighters, the rescue workers, everyone involved, students, individuals from the neighborhood, the hotel that let us stay, all the people who showed up with signs and food — I want to say thank you.”