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The battle of the boojums: Sandy Ruhl

By Sandy Ruhl
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday Feb. 14, 2002

Guest commentary

I feel compelled to respond to the recent commentary regarding the Alumni Plaza project and clarify some of the information ("The Battle of the Boojums - the Real Story," Feb. 11).

Jessica Lee and Kendrick Wilson imply that members of the Alumni Plaza Committee were not listening to UA and local community members. They accuse President Likins of "turning a deaf ear." On the contrary, the results show that the Alumni Association, President Likins and university representatives were diligently going through a process of listening and seeking information before making a final recommendation on the plan for Alumni Plaza to the Planning and Design Review Advisory Committee (PADRAC) on Feb. 8.

This process has been unnecessarily painful at times, especially for alumni volunteers, who have been subjected to harsh criticism while their sole intention for Alumni Plaza has been to give a gift to their alma mater - a wonderful outdoor space in the heart of campus for informal and formal gatherings, relaxation, performances and celebrations. The design also will feature and celebrate the university's rich heritage and traditions. In focus group discussions, students have told the Alumni Association they would like to know more about the university's traditions.

In their commentary, Lee and Wilson wrote, "The Alumni Association did an about face in their opinion of the garden's fate, consequently undermining the work of the petitioners and letter writers." We would call this "about face" listening and learning, not undermining.

From the beginning of the Alumni Plaza planning process, we heard many different points of view. "We want more grass." "Save the boojums." "The boojums can survive a move." "The boojums will certainly die if moved." "Move the cactus garden back to its original site west of Old Main." "We want a clear view of the Mall."

We had early information that indicated the boojums could survive a move if done properly. We thought we could produce a win-win plan by moving the cactus garden back to its original site west of Old Main where it could be expanded, be enhanced, and retain the name of Joseph Wood Krutch. We were told and believed that students wanted more turf area on the Mall to make up for space lost to the ILC.

We asked for input from the campus community. There were public meetings in October and November. Lo Que Pasa and the Wildcat did stories about the project. Information went out to all 200,000 alumni in the Arizona Alumnus magazine. Conversations began, just as they are supposed to, about the Plaza. We heard from many well-informed and well-meaning alumni, students, and faculty members about their concerns for the garden and the memory of Joseph Wood Krutch. After the Dec. 7 meeting of PADRAC, it became clear that we needed more time to ask questions and listen to people's concerns.

In response, President Likins and I readily agreed that it was best to extend the project's timeline by three months to gather more information, and the Alumni Plaza Committee directed the design firm, Hargreaves Associates, to go back to the drawing board and give their best effort to developing a plan that incorporated and celebrated the cactus garden in its current location.

We applaud the students who took the time to express their opinions about Alumni Plaza and the cactus garden - and we did listen. You obviously care about the university, and you are going to make great alumni someday. We also thank the alumni who wrote to us to share their memories and express their views.

To get another evaluation of the garden, we hired a consultant who was cited by many as an authority on desert plants, especially boojum trees. We learned that, in the opinion of the chief botanist of the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix, the boojums had only a 60-90 percent chance of survival if they were transplanted. That was not good enough.

Although the Alumni Association and President Likins were pretty well convinced before the holiday break that the garden must remain in place, the committee didn't want to publicly announce that until we had an opportunity to present plans both with and without the garden to the ASUA Student Senate. We couldn't get on their agenda until January 16.

After we had received a terrific set of designs from Hargreaves Associates and heard from the students at Student Senate, the Alumni Plaza Committee met and unanimously voted to recommend to PADRAC that they accept a design that incorporates and showcases the garden. PADRAC met on Feb. 8 and did just that.

The proof that the Alumni Association and the University listened and responded is that we now have a plan for Alumni Plaza that should please those who expressed support for retaining the Krutch Cactus Garden in its current location - and it even adds a little more turf area.

You can see the plan on the Alumni Association's Web site, We hope you'll agree that it will be a beautiful open space for the entire Wildcat family to enjoy.


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