MTR Landscape Architects to design Arboretum botanic gardens

University Park, Pa. -- Penn State has selected the nationally known architectural firm MTR Landscape Architects of Pittsburgh to begin designing the H.O. Smith Botanic Gardens--the next step in making The Arboretum at Penn State a reality.

Penn State chose MTR following a solicitation of proposals from about a dozen prestigious architectural firms.

"MTR is a national-class designer of botanic gardens," said Arboretum Director Kim Steiner. "They have designed major projects for the Chicago and Missouri botanic gardens and quite a number of others that are considered among the best in the country."

The University previously worked with MTR to develop the master plan for the Mitchell tract, a 56-acre parcel along Park Avenue that serves as the front door to the arboretum. The Mitchell tract will contain the H.O. Smith Botanic Gardens, named for State College contractor and real estate developer H.O. Smith, the late father of University alumnus and State College resident Charles H. "Skip" Smith. Earlier this year, Skip Smith made a gift commitment of $10 million to the arboretum, a gift that is allowing the initial phase of construction of the arboretum to move forward.

Design work will begin in August, according to Steiner, with construction slated to start in January. Completion of the first phase is scheduled for spring 2009.

According to MTR partner and landscape architect Missy Marshall, the project is unique for her firm in several ways.

"The Arboretum at Penn State is different in that not only is it located on a larger piece of land compared to others, but also that the land was not previously developed," she explained. "It's also special for us as a Pennsylvania firm, because it's the first Northeastern arboretum that we've worked on. Our project director, Bob Vukich, is a Penn State alumnus, so we're very excited about our connections to Penn State."

Phase I of the H. O. Smith Botanic Gardens will contain several key attractions, including an overlook pavilion and conservatory terrace to allow visitors to view the surrounding arboretum as it is developed, an event lawn, rose and fragrance garden, and area for demonstrating horticultural techniques. Several of these spaces will be available for private gatherings such as receptions and weddings, and for public events, including festivals, plant sales and garden shows.

"Botanic gardens and arboreta are really outdoor museums, with displays and demonstration gardens, but they are also research and teaching centers," said Marshall. "Penn State's Arboretum is definitely geared toward learning. Our goal is to establish the major pillars of the Arboretum so that it becomes a campus amenity serving both students and the larger community."

Occupying nearly 400 acres extending west and north from Park Avenue to the Mount Nittany Expressway, The Arboretum at Penn State will be open to the public. The master plan for the botanic gardens includes plantings of species from around the world and state-of-the-art educational and research facilities. Future plans include a visitors center, conservatory and children's education center.

The Arboretum will be almost entirely funded by philanthropic support.

"Although construction of the Arboretum beyond this initial phase will depend on additional private gifts, I am confident that these gifts will materialize," said Steiner. "Our planned conservatory, education center, overlook pavilion, and the children's and other gardens are tremendously exciting naming opportunities, especially given our ambition to build one of the best university arboreta in the country."

To learn more about the future development plans for The Arboretum at Penn State and the H. O. Smith Botanic Gardens, contact Steiner at (814) 865-9351 or visit http://www.arboretum.psu.edu online.

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Last Updated March 19, 2009