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Georgia Southern University Takes Shape

By Stephen Kelly, regional editor

Massive brick columns capped with cast stone and lamp lights mark the original grand entrance to the campus, the beginning of Southern Drive, a dogwood and lamp-lined drive through a wooded preserve leading to historic Sweetheart Circle.

Georgia Southern University (GSU) is a 675-acre campus in Statesboro, the largest university in southern Georgia, with 130 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in seven colleges and a student body of 16,000, representing every state in the union and some 80 nations. The school was founded in 1906, offering a two-year program in agricultural and mechanics, progressing to a four-year teacher's college beginning in the 1920s. In 1990, GSU became a full-fledged university, the first in southern Georgia.

The university is home to the Center for Wildlife Education and Lamar Q. Ball Raptor Center, the Museum of Natural and Cultural History, and a botanical garden. On the sports field, GSU has won six national football championships in the NCAA I-AA division.

The signature portrait view of Georgia Southern University's historic Sweetheart Circle, with GSU spelled out in boxwood. Pecan and live oak trees frame the white columns of the Admin. Bldg., one of the three original 1908 campus buildings. Originally conceived on four acres of land in 1906, the university now encompasses over 634 acres.

No through traffic! As part of the master plan to create a more pedestrian friendly campus, several campus streets will be converted to pedestrian and bicycle pathways. Vehicular traffic will be rerouted to circulate around the campus on a loop road. Herty Drive is under construction, scheduled for completion by fall semester 2005. A 12-foot wide paver path connecting to existing paver pathways replaces the 35-foot wide asphalt road. Herty Drive terminates to a large cul-de-sac designed to accommodate the future bus transit system, expected to begin this fall.

Statesboro is in east central Georgia, only 50 miles from the Atlantic and 46 miles northwest of historic Savannah. In 1803, an act of the Georgia legislature, created Bulloch County and Statesborough, a gift of 200 acres from one George Sibbald of Augusta. Settlers began migrating to the area around1810. North Carolinians plying the timber and turpentine trade came to harvest the pines; farmers soon followed when it was learned the cleared land was sufficiently fertile.

Over the last nine years, Chuck Taylor, ASLA, the landscape architect and planner for the GSU campus, has put his designer's touch to the school, master planning and implementing a sense of continuity--polished brick walkways, fountains, grand entry gates, columns, period lamp posts and cast iron bollards. The campus features lakes, spreading lawns and venerable trees: oak, magnolia, longleaf pine, crape myrtle, dogwood, pecan, bald cypress, red cedar and sabal palmetto.

The gateway is the newest development on campus, the beginning of a one-mile boulevard bordering preserved wetlands and pine forest. The six precast concrete pillars represent the six name changes for the school as it progressed from a small agriculture college beginning in 1906 to its status as a major regional university. The dates are inscribed above each column on a cast stone entablature. The decorative lamp-lit boulevard, Holophane poles and fixtures (RSL-350), is lined with southern live oaks on the perimeter with double rows of flowering crape myrtles in the median.

Students conversing on the Pedestrium in front of the new College of Education Building. Cabbage palms (Sabal palmetto) flank the columned entry. Natchez crape myrtles and Stella de Oro daylilies provide seasonal color.

Oladele Ogunseitan, a professor of social ecology at the University of California, Irvine, recently did a survey of 379 people on the Irvine campus to discover how they rated features in the urban landscape and their sense well-being--what the professor called topophilia (see The results, published in

the February 2005 journal of Environmental Health Perspectives, showed that students felt that flowers and bodies of water in the campus landscape were particularly enhancing to mental well-being. Given that, GSU students must be quite serene in their environment. When a university employs a landscape architect, it's to create a signature look, one that makes a distinctive impression, that entices perspective students to make it their home away from home. GSU reports it has "invested more than $200 million in a renaissance of buildings and beautification.

Flowering kurume azaleas bordered with mondo grass under aching live oaks in early spring provide the foreground to a Poligon gazebo (left) in the pedestrium walkway and Lake Wells in the background.

Lewis Hall, one of several historic buildings on the original campus on Sweetheart Circle, once served as a girl's dormitory. Recently renovated, it now houses the admissions office. The campus standard of decorative pavers (Tremron and Pavestone), lamp posts and fixtures by Holophane (Granville globes) and period cast-iron bollards (Robinson Iron "Multi-modal") bring an updated look to the exterior--a blend of the old with the new.

"I'm creating an image, an identity, a feel, something that lets people know this is Georgia Southern University, not just another building in the community," Chuck Taylor says. He has helped refine and unify Georgia Southern's look. "We replaced and expanding the cracked concrete sidewalks with brick walkways, dismantling old sheds on the edges of campus, constructed entry gates and fountains and moved parking lots and roads to improve traffic flow," he explains.

Chuck Taylor is a graduate of the University of Illinois landscape architecture program. He spend seven years in Dallas doing land development for Centennial Homes, then four years of construction management in St. Louis, Mo., before accepting the position of landscape architect and campus planner for GSU.

The center of the campus academic corridor is Lake Wells. The lake attracts wildlife, waterfowl and provides detention for storm water. Chuck Taylor notes the aerating fountain here, unlike the Otterbine fountains used in other bodies of water on the campus, was a "physical plant special," i.e., put together from various parts after locating a 5 hp pump. A mix of krume and Southern Indian azaleas provide a bounty of color along the promenade, with bald byres and red cedars providing shady roosting areas along the lake for the ducks.

Dwarf gardenias (Augusta) circle the cast iron urn fountain seated in a 10-foot dia. pool basin veneered with stucco, shaded by old stands of longleaf pines and magnolias. Behind the fountain is the cast stone walls of the Builders' Memorial Terrace, the bronze plaques commemorating the retired employees' service to the university.

In 2002, Chuck Taylor's outdoor exhibit designs at the university's Center for Wildlife Education won a Merit award from the Georgia Chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects. Mr. Taylor was the principal designer and project manager for a team that designed and constructed the education center with six habitats that displayed several species of birds of prey in their natural environment. There is a 20-seat outdoor amphitheater for the raptor shows, plus a children's discovery trail with 17 exploratory stations (eagles, hawks, owls, and falcons), a reptile exhibit and an ecology pavilion for hands-on programs.

"Look, Mom, king of the mountain." The campus playground, part of the Family Life Education program, has cypress mulch for safety surfacing and a mix of play equipment, including this Landscape Structures climber.

Enveloped by the gateway buildings, the new Pedestrium opens to a common lawn lined by young live oak trees (3" caliper) that will bring substantial shade to the area by around 2015, Chuck Taylor estimates. A visual icon for the renovated campus will be a carillon (tuned bells in a tower played from a keyboard) in the center green.

Chuck Taylor recently won another Merit award from the Georgia ASLA chapter for his pro bono redesign of Triangle Park in downtown Statesboro, the "Stewardship" feature in the March 2005 LASN (see "Triangle Park Takes Shape" p. 250).

When I spoke to Chuck Taylor recently on the phone to discuss his work at GSU, I told him I wanted to let the GSU campus photography do the talking about his work. So, enough words! Enjoy the tour of GSU.

Several infrastructure projects in the historic portion of campus left the old concrete walks damaged. In addition, the narrowness of the old walks were inadequate to accommodate the increasing student population. The campus standard of decorative precast concrete pavers (Tremron and Pavestone) on a one-inch sand base and 3,000 psi concrete edger strip have replaced old damaged sidewalks. Small caliper live oaks have been planted, with dogwood and crape myrtle accent trees providing seasonal interest.

The mountain display, one of six native Georgia habitat displays at Georgia Southern's Center for Wildlife Education, houses 11 species of injured birds of prey (raptors), including a peregrine falcon. Additional habitats include wetlands, an old-growth forest and an elevated boardwalk where visitors are eye level to a bald-headed eagle in its tree top nest. The stone for the mountain display was brought in from the Gulf Coast and dry stacked. Saw palmetto is the foreground planting. In 2002, the center won a merit award in the design category during the Tri-State (Georgia, North Carolina & South Carolina) ASLA Conference. Chuck Taylor, ASLA, was the project manager for the center, leading a team of designers and consultants, including noted wildlife authority Jim Fowler of television's Wild Kingdom program.

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December 7, 2019, 3:57 am PDT

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