Campus Makes Progress on Beautification

January 21, 2008

In recent years, the University of Houston has invested more than $12 million in beautifying the campus, from saving decades-old trees to planting a garden with 1,075 azaleas. Now, UH is adding to its lush landscape with jogging trails, a Japanese pond and, possibly, a new park — initiatives that stem from the campus master plan.

The master plan will span approximately 20 years and allows the university to increase the square footage of campus buildings to 15 million from eight million, increase overall enrollment to 45,000 from 35,000 and calls for enhanced landscaping and expansion of recreation areas across campus. UH’s latest beautification effort began with the creation of a comprehensive jogging trail system, primarily with campus sidewalks.

In August, Plant Operations launched the first phase of the jogging project, which involves developing a jogging trail that extends one-third of a mile along the perimeter of the detention pond on University Drive, east of the Campus Recreation and Wellness Center. The trail includes parcourse fitness stations, such as pull-up bars, ground-level lights and drinking fountains.

“The first phase is about 60 to 75 percent complete,” said Darrell K. Bunch, senior project manager in the Office of Facilities Planning and Construction. “The parcourse fitness stations were installed in January, and about 80 light fixtures also will be installed this semester.”

UH recently launched the project’s second phase — renovating and widening the sidewalk that dead ends at Texas Spur 5 and Wheeler Avenue and extending the sidewalk to Calhoun Road. Plant Operations employees planted 50 live oak trees along that stretch of road. The renovation and other work will take place over the spring.

Plans also are under way to build a jogging trail that loops nearly four miles from Spur 5 to Elgin Boulevard to Scott Street to Wheeler Avenue and back to Spur 5, according to Bunch.

Administrators also hope to dovetail onto Harris County’s and the city of Houston’s effort to enhance landscaping on the bayou west of the Texas Medical Center to the Houston Ship Channel. As part of the initiative, MacGregor Park, near campus, will receive major improvements, including jogging trails and new landscaping.

UH hopes to lease, for a nominal fee, more than 20 acres of city property adjacent to the five acres it owns, where Calhoun Road, Martin Luther King Boulevard and Wheeler Avenue intersect. There, administrators envision creating a park with similar jogging trails and landscaping as a way to tie the neighborhood with the campus. The park also may include a pavilion, security lighting, call boxes and video camera surveillance.

The third landscaping project will not only enhance the campus, but also will provide a tranquil place for faculty, staff and students — a Japanese koi pond.

“(Architecture) professor Charles Tapley is developing a green zone — an area where native plants would grow to attract butterflies and humming birds,” Bunch said. “We’re going to expound on that concept by developing a Japanese pond a little further south of the green zone on the east side of the Gerald D. Hines College of Architecture and near Cullen College of Engineering Building 2.”

Preliminary plans call for constructing an approximately 60,000-gallon pond shaped in a bow tie that measures six feet deep on one end and four feet deep on the other. The pond would be located between an arched foot bridge and a new parking lot with several berms, Japanese maples and other plants surrounding it. The project, which was recently launched, is scheduled to be completed in the spring semester, according to Bunch.

 “The pond will be stocked with marine life such as fish and turtles,” Bunch said. “Our objective is to create a scenic area for the campus community.”

Also on the drawing board is a plan to “screen off” the railroad tracks on University Drive by using decorative landscaping, Bunch said.

Francine Parker