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Controversial Alumni Plaza breaks ground with cactus garden intact

Courtesy of the Alumni Association
This is an artist's rendering of the Alumni Plaza to be constructed near the Administration building. The groundbreaking ceremony for the Alumni Plaza is today at 4:30 p.m. on the Mall.
By Alexandria Blue
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Friday, November 7, 2003

Nearly two years after controversy erupted surrounding the proposed removal of the cactus garden, ground will be broken today on the Alumni Plaza, which now includes the garden as its centerpiece.

More than 200 students, faculty and alumni are expected to gather today to commemorate the beginning of the $4.85 million plaza project.

UA President Peter Likins and ASUA President J.P. Benedict are expected to speak. UA men's basketball coach Lute Olson will also be in attendance.

The ceremony will begin at 4:30 p.m. outside the Administration building. At the beginning of the program, the USS Arizona bell will ring seven times in honor of UA alumnus Bill Bowers, who died last week. Bowers salvaged the bell from the battleship, which sank during the attack on Pearl Harbor.

The new plaza will be home to a host of native Sonoran Desert plants, an elliptical grassy hill, four new fountains, 50 alumni benches and a bronze Wildcat family statue.

Amphitheater-style steps will be built in front of the Administration building to complement the existing entrance.

The amphitheater will give students a place to lounge in between classes as well as another venue for music performances and other formal events, said Mike McDonald, chief financial officer for the Alumni Association.

The UA fight song, names of alumni who donated money to the plaza project and other UA facts will be engraved into bricks along the new "Wildcat Walk" and into the amphitheater stairs.

Construction on the plaza will occur in six phases, designed to minimize disruption to students and staff, McDonald said.

The first phase of plaza construction, which will have the most direct impact on students, will begin Dec. 15 and continue through February of next year.

During this time, access to the area in front of the Administration building, as well as the building itself, will be unavailable. Bicycle paths and pedestrian walkways surrounding the construction areas will also be diverted intermittently during construction.

Some UA students who walk and ride their bicycles to class in the potential construction area are concerned about being diverted from their normal route.

Cynthia Pearson, a freshman majoring in pre-physiological sciences, rides her bike to a class in the Modern Languages building.

Pearson said that the construction will force her to use another bike route and could potentially make her late to classes.

"My class is always in 10 minutes after (my class in the Modern Languages building), so I always have to be on the run," Pearson said.

"It's not going to be good," she said.

Steven Aleck, a music freshman who has a class near the future plaza, said that he will find a new way to get to class once construction begins. "It'll be a hassle on the days that I wake up 10 minutes before class," he said. "But typically, it shouldn't be a problem."

The plaza, which will be situated in front of the Administration building between the Student Union Memorial Center and the Modern Languages building, will also include a portion of the existing Mall surrounding the Joseph Wood Krutch cactus garden.

The role of the Krutch cactus garden in the Alumni Plaza plans was the subject of much debate in previous years.

Some students, faculty and alumni said they were against early plaza plans to uproot and redistribute the plants in the garden to

different areas on campus. Many botanical experts said that endangered species like the rare boojum trees would not survive transplantation.

Moreover, many cited the significance of the Krutch garden as a historical centerpiece of campus. Members of the Alumni Association and the Campus Arboretum formed the Krutch Garden Working Group as a means of determining the fate of the garden.

The working group decided that the garden will undergo minor changes, an expansion and be incorporated into the plaza.

All parties involved with the plaza project are satisfied with the placement and subsequent expansion of the cactus garden, said Elizabeth Davison, director of the campus arboretum.

The plaza project also encountered opposition from members of the UA community who were opposed to the big-budget project altogether.

"The university is already strapped for cash. They're losing fine members of the faculty left and right, in part because of poorly made decisions such as spending a bunch of money to honor the alumni," said former alumnus Luke Denmon in a letter to the Wildcat earlier this year.

McDonald said that all funds spent on the plaza were donated by alumni and that the majority of the plaza's funding came from a handful of donors. McDonald added that many of these donors are alumni who also contribute to other areas on campus.

Once completed, the new Alumni Plaza will provide members of the UA community with both a place for informal gatherings as well as an area for formal events, McDonald said.

Likins, who is expected to thank those who contributed to the building of the plaza tomorrow, said that he is excited to see the Alumni Plaza begin to come together.

"We're finally breaking ground on projects that have just been dreams for years," Likins said.

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