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Site of former science building hosts different kind of lab

The former space occupied by the Boettcher East science building will allow DU to experiment with different, more environmentally friendly landscaping. Photo: Chase Squires

The science laboratories in the former Boettcher East building are gone now, but the site of the building demolished last year will still host several experiments over the coming years.

Working in collaboration, DU’s facilities management, the office of the University architect and the University arborist will be working with different plant species to identify varieties that might need less water, hold up to traffic better and beautify the campus throughout the year.

Teams will plant alternative varieties of grass on large blocks of ground in the footprint of the old science building, and arborist Martin Quigley is choosing plants to test around the site and in the pools that once worked as cooling ponds for the building.

University Architect Mark Rodgers says having the time to experiment without feeling a need to rebuild immediately on the spot allows him to test new varieties of plants, expand the campus’ green space and draw in the southern part of the campus. While the central and northern parts of campus have deliberately allowed for green spaces to bind the campus together, the southern part of the campus was added to the University piecemeal, so there was never the opportunity to craft large open spaces.

“There’s no need to rush into anything,” Rodgers says. “We have this rare opportunity to really look at that space and the spaces around it.”

Once established, the plots of grasses — including many that are developed to thrive in Denver’s arid climate — will be fair game for fun and games, Rodgers says.

“Walk on it, play on it, work on it. We want you to use it,” Rodgers says. “We want to know how these grasses hold up. One may be more dominant and cross the line into another area. One may turn brown at the first frost. One may turn out to be better at thriving under the conditions here, and one may be more susceptible to invasive species.”

Quigley hopes to help change campus landscaping patterns.

“I’m trying to start getting us weaned off of just using grass or that ‘twigs and gravel’ look,” he says. “People have the unfortunate idea that xeriscaping means planting nothing. The real idea behind xeriscaping is using plants that have adapted to the surrounding conditions.”

For the Boettcher green space, that could mean evergreens in some spots, but also less traditional species such as oregano (yes, the spice), plumbago and Japanese painted fern. There will even be different varieties of aquatic plants inside the old cooling ponds.

“We want to experiment with different plants that will look good all year,” he says. “We can have color on campus March through October. We can have foliage that lasts through the winter.”

And in the end, an integrated, thriving ground cover can be less work for DU landscapers than the traditional gravel and mulch.

Workers have been grading the area throughout March, and Quigley says planting should be under way during the next six weeks. The plants will need some special attention as they get established, but eventually he says they will create a durable, attractive open space for the campus community to use and enjoy.

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