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OCU Set for Major Landscape Overhaul
OKLAHOMA CITY — The primary entryway to Oklahoma City University took a step closer to being more of an enchanted forest than an open plain when landscape workers began installing trees around Centennial Plaza near the corner of Blackwelder Avenue and N.W. 24th Street this week. The Margaret Annis Boys Trust Grant from the Oklahoma City Community Foundation awarded nearly half of the estimated $31,000 to create an on-campus arboretum. The grant is part of the trust’s Parks & Public Spaces Initiative. OCU plans to create a space that is aesthetically pleasing and useful as an educational tool. The Centennial Plaza project essentially serves as the first phase of a major landscape project for Blackwelder Avenue between approximately N.W. 24th Street and N.W. 26th Street. The master plan calls for the street pavement to make way for a long garden, an expansion of what the adjacent Centennial Plaza is currently becoming. That portion of Blackwelder Avenue fronts a few key classroom buildings and the administration building. “We’re working with a landscape company, botanists and arborists to carefully plan what will look nice, what will last for a long time and what will be useful as study material,” said Susan Barber, OCU’s associate provost and a biology professor who is helping to decide what gets planted. “We are using many species that are native to Oklahoma, which will enhance their ability to thrive and their educational value.” According to a preliminary study, OCU plans to plant about 150 trees and shrubs in the one-acre area over a five-year period. The study lists about 15 different varieties that will be planted in the plaza. Over time, other varieties will be planted throughout the campus. The grant proposal drafted by OCU stated the university’s willingness to work with other schools for a shared benefit. OCU has already approached officials from Oklahoma State University-Oklahoma City’s Kirkpatrick Horticultural Center, which has expressed interest in an educational use partnership. As for creating a space that is pleasing to the eye, the university cited the traffic count in its grant proposal, stating that Centennial Plaza serves as the “front door” to campus with an estimated 30,000 to 50,000 visitors per year. That number is expected to rise as OCU enrollment grows and special public events are added to its calendar. The area also sits within easy view of a heavily-traveled portion of N.W. 23rd Street. Barber noted that the December 2007 ice storm destroyed many of the trees on campus. However, a side benefit to the weather disaster is that it prompted the university to conduct a thorough study of all of its landscape elements. “We are in the process of creating a comprehensive database of every tree and shrub on campus, so adding this project as a teaching tool will be much easier since we’re not starting from scratch. It’s also a testament to how much care and consideration we are taking in the development of our landscape,” she said. To encourage further landscape improvements, Oklahoma City University has self-imposed a policy that requires it to add two trees for every one removed from campus. Barber added that while the plaza project is significant for OCU, it won’t be its first time to have a renowned collection of plants. The university was once known as a destination for amateur and professional botanists to enjoy their studies in the middle of the city. Founded in 1969, the Oklahoma City Community Foundation works with donors and organizations to create endowments that address needs and opportunities within the community. Grants are awarded through the Community Grants Program several times a year to metropolitan area charitable organizations. For more information about the Oklahoma City Community Foundation, visit www.occf.org. Some Centennial Plaza tree project notes: · A new botany and environmental science professor started teaching classes at OCU in the fall · The Centennial Plaza project is hoped to be the first step toward a campus-wide arboretum for native species similar to projects at the Scott Arboretum of Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania and Centenary College Arboretum in Louisiana · A marked, publicly accessible walking path currently borders Centennial Plaza on two sides · Species of trees include holly, Oklahoma Redbud, oak, cypress, chestnut and others · A parking lot in front of the plaza serves visitors of the Community Dance Center to the west, and the performance venues in the Wanda L. Bass School of Music and Margaret E. Petree Recital Hall to the north