November 4, 2001

Vision for CUH and Merrill Hall

The Historical Setting

The concept for the Center for Urban Horticulture (CUH) began in the 1970s as a shared vision of the UW and the Pacific Northwest horticultural community. The UW envisioned a program that would make greater research and educational use of the Washington Park Arboretum. The community needed a center of information, resources, and leadership for the region's many horticultural activities and organizations. CUH was established in 1980 and quickly became a model for similar efforts both nationally and internationally. In 1988, the management responsibility for CUH was transferred from the Provost's Office to the College of Forest Resources (CFR).

Presently, the center's mission is "to apply horticulture to natural and human-altered landscapes to sustain natural resources and the human spirit." The goal of the center is to develop and apply the most current knowledge about plants, plant populations, and larger assemblages to the solution of problems that are generated in largely urban and urbanizing environments. Although founded with a largely urban focus, research programs range from highly human-impacted systems to wildland environments and it is this continuum that provides opportunities for collaboration across various programs of the College.

The center is responsible for management of the Union Bay Natural Area, where emergent wetlands, shoreline, and upland woodland and meadows of the natural area are one of three foci for the Restoration Ecology Network (a three campus endeavor) and provide a living classroom and wildlife sanctuary within the urban context of the University's East Campus. The center co-manages the 230-acre Washington Park Arboretum located in Seattle adjacent to several urban neighborhoods. Center facilities include demonstration and test gardens, a modern greenhouse and nursery, office space, research laboratories, the Otis Hyde herbarium and the Elisabeth C. Miller Horticultural Library. The center also has formal collaborative relationships with Washington State University/King County Cooperative Extension with its programs in Master Gardening and Urban Food Gardening. In addition, the center has partnerships with the Northwest Horticultural Society, the Seattle Garden Club, the Puget Sound Mycological Society, Seattle Youth Garden Works and the NW chapter of the Society for Ecological Restoration. The center's continuing education program is immensely successful.

In May 2001, CUH was the target of a devastating act of arson. Merrill Hall, CUH's main building, was demolished and the remaining portions remain unfit for occupancy. The Washington State Legislature committed funds to the UW to rebuild Merrill Hall. Individual and corporate donors have also pledged support to restore and enhance the center's facilities and programs.

The New Vision

The destruction of Merrill Hall, as well as a review of the entire academic thrust of the College of Forest Resources, provides an opportunity to expand the center's vision for the future. In this broader role, CUH will become a very important part of an urban sustainability hub. The center will assume an expanded leadership, integrative and outreach role encompassing urban horticulture, forestry, ecology, water and wildlife as well as restoration ecology. Although there has been a substantial commitment of public monies to restore the facilities originally built with donations from private individuals and foundations, these monies are insufficient to address this expanded vision - a vision vitally connected to Washington State's economic and environmental well being.

The College of Forest Resources has the potential to become a world-recognized resource for urban problem solving at a regional, national, and global level. Presently, the College has three important foundation elements for the development of such a resource: the Center for Streamside Studies, CUH and the newly funded, multidisciplinary program in urban ecology (NSF Research Program and NSF Graduate Program [IGERT] support). Other University resources are also available to support this broadened vision, including the Restoration Ecology Network. The urban sustainability hub provides a contextual framework through which a wide range of existing and emerging efforts in urban environmental and resource issues involving the interaction between plants, animals and humans are integrated. The center will serve as a facility where researchers, practitioners and others from the University community interact with the public. The College is in a unique position to address policy, resource and science issues emerging at the interface between organisms, populations, their systems and humans. The Puget Sound Region represents a model system in which urbanization, rural interface, and wildlands are all present and undergoing rapid changes. Salmon and other rare and endangered organisms have become policy "drivers" forcing the public and private sectors to address their individual and collective behaviors. The College is in a position to assume a leadership role in providing a public forum for identifying and understanding issues and framing solutions.

In short, we envision a broader leadership and facilitation role for CUH to support a wide array of educational, demonstrational, research and outreach/distance learning programs that enhance and enlarge University - community exchange. CUH will be instrumental in providing a forum for collaborative discussion and outreach, a laboratory for research, and a valuable resource for solving current challenges in the Puget Sound Region and the Pacific Northwest. Further, the College recognizes the value of continuing to enhance and strengthen the horticultural paradigm of the center. Additional resources will necessarily be required to fulfill the broader set of programs discussed herein.

New Facilities

Our proposal for proceeding with the pre-design of Merrill Hall is to have the architects plan from the outset to construct a facility that replaces lost functionality associated with the center. Simultaneously, the architects must plan for the addition of a facility to function as an "environmental forum" to support collaborative problem solving and community based decision-making efforts involving environmental and natural resource issues throughout the region. The facility will also serve as an enhanced educational facility to achieve life-long learning for the state's population. A set of spaces (rooms) that provide break out areas and a larger (state of the art) meeting room where groups can gather to discuss urban, natural resource and environmental sustainability issues will be a wonderful addition to the College's existing facilities. The environmental forum, through design elements, will capture innovative ways of collaborative learning, problem solving, information dissemination and public discussion of environmental issues critical to the Pacific Northwest. It is compatible with and supports the mission of the College and the University of Washington.

Clearly, the local community as well as many outside constituents will be consulted during the pre-design phase. We believe we can secure funds to include such an enhancement. We also have some private design groups who are willing to assist Miller/Hull in this effort -- at no cost to the project.

Since such a facility exceeds the Legislative mandate for the replacement of Merrill Hall, the enhancements will require that we raise additional funds for construction. The hope and goal is to build one Merrill Hall. However, we recognize that if resultant permitting, siting, architectural or fund-raising issues/concerns don't permit a timely rebuilding of the entire facility, these agreed upon enhancements will be constructed as funds become available. The architects may also consider other alternatives for developing the environmental forum. One alternative is to consider an addition to NHS Hall in order that it complement the new Merrill Hall and accomplish the broader programmatic vision and environmental forum. We have secured limited funding to cover additional pre-design fees for the enhancements. It is imperative that the above vision be incorporated into our discussions of the Merrill Hall rebuild.

B. Bruce Bare, Acting Dean
Thomas Hinckley, Director, CUH

Revised: January 19, 2002

To Return to:Prof Bare's Page, Dean's Office, College of Forest Resources