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A Better Campus Environment
Texas A&M University's Killeen campus is in the middle of an ecologically sensitive site that includes a 370-acre rare bird habitat, a major creek corridor, and large stands of native live oaks that the university wanted to protect.

by Randy Sorensen, FASLA
Landscape Architecture by Jacobs Advance Planning Group


The newest addition to the Texas A&M University system is the Central Texas Campus in Killeen. The 672-acre property was transferred to the university from the US Army at Fort Hood in exchange for in-kind classroom use. The new campus includes a 370-acre rare bird habitat and large groups of native live oaks, ecological factors taken into consideration by the landscape architecture team from Jacobs, Inc. Photo: Visual Impact Communication/Jeff Buhner

Texas A&M University is one of the nation's largest premier research institutions of higher education. One of the newest additions is the campus in Killeen, Texas, which was carved out of 672 acres of undeveloped land owned by the US Army at Fort Hood. Army training activities were limited in recent years and the land was isolated from the rest of the post. With this in mind, the Army transferred the property to the University in exchange for in-kind use of classroom space and joint educational services for soldiers.

The campus is in the middle of an ecologically sensitive site that includes a 370-acre rare bird habitat, a major creek corridor, and large stands of native live oaks that the university wanted to protect. The site had experienced years of drought that made landscape watering a challenge. The property is classic central Texas ranchland: mature live oaks, exposed limestone outcrops, and meandering creeks. It boasts dramatic vistas from topographic high points, including Knob Hill, a large volcanic cone-shaped hill that the university kept undeveloped as a campus icon.


Permeable pavers (Pavestone) and bioswales help capture runoff. Gray water is captured and stored in a 25,000-gallon underground tank, which supplies 70 percent of the campus's water needs.
Photo: Visual Impact Communication/Jeff Buhner

Instead of the usual campus design of large quads and manicured lawns, the team opted for a different approach: prioritizing environmental function and preservation of sensitive habitat, echoing the native landscape, capturing and reusing gray water for irrigation, and low maintenance. Although these principles are widely practiced in landscape architecture, they are not commonly used on university campuses.

The design team contemplated if it was possible to create a campus void of green mown quads and neatly maintained flowerbeds that students expect, and instead replace it with grass that is mown only once a year, flowerbeds that look like meadows, and a campus where it's hard to tell the middle from the outer wooded edges. The Texas A&M University system took a leap of faith trusting the team to design and deliver an alternative campus landscape.

The landscape architecture team from Jacobs Advance Planning Group worked with the architects and the university to create a master plan for the campus and the final design of phase one, which included the design and construction of the main entrance.



The campus' inner turf areas are planted with Buffalo grass, which only gets mowed once a year. The landscape architects blended the existing native plants on site with a palette of native wildflowers, including black-eyed Susan, purple coneflower, and Texas bluebonnet.
Photos: Visual Impact Communication/Jeff Buhner (Bottom) and GFF Architects (Top)

Sustainable design principles are woven throughout the campus. The design preserves native vegetation and wildlife habitat, respects site topography, withstands severe drought conditions, and requires low maintenance.

The landscape architects used various strategies to preserve the major stream that meanders through the site and to address stormwater runoff and water quality:

o The creation of a wide protection buffer for the existing stream.
o The use of native plants that have low water needs, require no fertilization, and can withstand periods of severe drought.
o The use of native Buffalo grass on lawns, requiring mowing only once a year.
o The creation of bioswales to slow water down during storm events and capture any silting or runoff.
o The use of permeable pavement.
o The amendment of soils to meet landscape needs, rather than bringing in new soil.
o A drip irrigation system that uses gray water captured and stored in a 25,000-gallon underground tank, suppling 70 percent of irrigation needs.

The landscape architects preserved a large percentage of the landscape and infused other native plant species into the plant palette. The design team took this native palette and organized it into more formal patterns as one moves from the natural landscape at the entry to the main campus. The resulting landscape is attractive, functional, sustainable, low maintenance, low cost, and diverse.


Due to the site's ecology, which includes limestone outcroppings and tributary creeks, Jacobs elected to depart from the classic college look (a manicured lawn at the center of a large quad). Instead, they opted to design the landscape to mimic nature, with low maintenance, drought tolerant, native plants.
Image: Visual Impact Communication/Jeff Buhner

Campus maintenance was a concern because the staff was not familiar with many of the native plants. This was resolved with training on how these plants should look, act and grow. The staff was further trained on drip irrigation, bioswales, permeable pavers and LED lighting.

The phase one landscape design and implementation have set the standard and tone for future campus work, while ensuring the current sustainable campus landscape design will be properly maintained for years to come. Texas A&M University Central Texas campus is a model to higher education institutions looking to design a sustainable campus of the future.


Design Team
Client: Texas A&M Facilities Planning & Construction
Landscape Architect: Jacobs Inc.: Randy Sorensen, FASLA, Lori Gordon, ASLA, Justin Kmetzsch
Project Architect: GFF Inc., Larry Good, FAIA, Bryce Weigard, AIA, Jon Rollins, AIA, Key Clark, Xavier Spencer Civil Engineer: Pacheco Koch: Mark Pacheco, PE

General Contractor: Austin Commercial LP
Landscape Contractor: BrightView (formerly ValleyCrest)

Select Plants
Cathedral Live Oak
Catawba Crape Myrtle
Mexican Feather Grass
Sand Lovegrass
American Basketflower
Lazy Daisy
Indian Blanket
Purple Prairie Clover
Plains Coreopsis
Missouri Primrose

As seen in LASN magazine, January 2017.

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August 18, 2019, 12:56 am PDT

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