Monthly Archives: January 2011

Rough Budget

We talked about the need to present a rough budget with your design proposal at the last site visit-and I promised some figures that you could use to come up with one. Don’t forget to read about the baseline improvements we’ve already planned to make to the site-and these don’t need to be figured into your budget.

Sidewalks-$10 per square foot. Don’t plan on anything less than a 6′ width. The master plan has some great things to say about walkways at Middlebury, see page 65 under the Built Systems chapter.

Patio/Plaza-On the last couple of projects we’ve been using a stamped dyed concrete to construct hard patio surfaces. Colored a dark grey, similar to local Panton Stone, this is also stamped to give a look similar to a real stone patio, with square lines and a stone like rough surface. Look at the patio at Proctor, or the one on the Old Chapel road side of McCullough for good examples. We feel this surface treatment is a good compromise between the look of a real stone patio, and the realistic maintenance and wear-and-tear issues in this well-traveled and used environment. Plan on about $20 per square foot installed. Installation on these are similar to a sidewalk, with a well compacted stone base.

Light Pole-About $3,000 each. This includes a sonotube concrete base, and wiring (assuming not too much of a run) Interesting side note here-the 30 year cost of a light pole and the 30 year cost of a tree are about the same, in the $10-12,000 range.

Gate-This is a tricky one. Nobody likes the gates we have in use now, the wire strung between two posts with a lock on each side. I was daydreaming at a Bollard manufacturer site for inspiration. Something truly nice would probably be about $10,000. The bottom of that sidewalk by Atwater A gets quite a bit of service vehicle use, so anything retractable/ removable would have to be pretty bomb-proof.

Benches-This can run the gamut, but here in Facilities we’ve been pleased with the granite stone benches we’ve been using lately. Look for some on and near the McCullough plaza. With a footing installed, they’re about $1500 each.

Tree Planting-Trees are sold by the caliper inch, which is the measurement of the trunk 6″ above the ground. Height is not as good an indicator of maturity as trunk measurement, as some trees (such as crabapples) may be as old, but never as tall. A common size sold in the landscape trade is 2-2 1/2″. This would normally come balled and burlaped, meaning it was grown in the ground at the nursery for several years, then dug up and shipped. Planted, staked, and mulched, this is going to cost about $500 each. I prefer planting a 3-3 1/2″ tree, and that is going to run about $750. Another popular size would be a 15 gallon, meaning it was grown in a 15 gallon container, and is generally about 1-1 1/2″ in diameter. This is good for mass planting, or in areas not as well traveled. We generally don’t plant trees this small on campus, at least not as individuals. Plan on $225 each for those.

Shrub and Flower Beds-Shrubs are tricky to get established when planted by themselves, unless they are quite large. Generally grown in smaller pots, or dug with smaller root balls, they tend to dry out quickly in the establishment phase unless planted in a large mulched bed. (They look better planted en masse on a campus this large anyway) This holds true for perennials as well. I did some calculating, and came up with about $7.50 per square foot on either a shrub or flower bed-the spacing of the plants equalizes the cost here. And fair warning-part of a sustainable landscape means it is sustainable economically, and we just don’t have the labor available to weed acres of flower beds, as much as I would like them. Shrub beds are not as difficult to weed, but still need some thought.

As always, feel free to contact me with questions. I’m sure I only skimmed the surface here. Luther Tenny is another great resource on pricing- he helped me come up with some of these, and any errors are mine.


I’ve been thinking a lot about space on campus-how it is defined, what makes a space work, and what limits on space are. Not to keep harping on the Master Plan for Middlebury, but the reading I’ve done so far in this topic is as good as the pile of books I’ve checked out of the Davis Library. (And the plan is in my office, compared to the funny looks I got walking through the library in my day-glo yellow OSHA snow shoveling visibility vest). We’re getting down to the final two weeks of Turf Battle, though, so I’ll do some paraphrasing of some concepts I’m certain the Master Plan committee will be thinking of as they review proposals.

In one of the first chapters, where the authors start to lay out the plan itself, (page 25 if you’re following along…) they write how larger campuses can comprise neighborhoods, which should have at least one of three characteristics-a clear center, consistent fabric, and a clear edge. The plan they lays out the vision of the neighborhoods of Middlebury, Central (Main) campus, the South campus (Arts and Athletics), and the area we’re working in, North Campus.

Under the new plan, each neighborhood should comprise of one major quadrangle, related courtyards, and some consistent fabric of landscape and buildings. Up until about the 1940’s, Middlebury was a one quadrangle school, what we call the Main Quad, bounded by Mead Chapel and Old Chapel road. The failure of campus planning, as the Master Plan sees it, is the fact that as Middlebury grew to the North and to the South, quadrangles were not added. They write,

Two of these districts (The North and South Campuses) lack sufficient identity and are suburban in character. They are not organized by streets, nor do they have legible spaces. In other words, they have no center, no consistent fabric, and no edge. (The random landscaping does not help establish a legible structure either.)

Our contest won’t speak to Battell Beach as a quad, but let’s keep thinking about space on campus, and the hierarchy of the spaces. Most references state the main level is of course the quad, followed by secondary spaces, usually parks and courtyards.

Most define a campus park as a large tract of land that includes lawn, grassland, and woodlands. They are usually large, and more naturalistic, with large sweeping pathways and less geometry. The plan writes of the Library Park as a quad, with its curving pathways, large significant trees, and naturalized spaces around the Garden of the Seasons. They would like to add another park around Bicentennial Hall.

Clearly, the Atwater area is too small to qualify as a quad, and too geometrical to count as a park (unless your plan changes that!), so in the hierarchy of spaces on a campus, that leaves the Atwater area clearly in the Courtyard camp. And indeed, this how how the master plan refers to this space. It does an excellent job defining a courtyard, (page 57)

A court is a relatively enclosed private or semi-private open space within a building, or a semi-private or public open space within a group of buildings. Courts may be purely private or purely public, but they are usually limited in size and legible in form. Their character and uses are directly related to the functional uses that surround them.

In Campus Architecture: Building in the Groves of Academe, by Richard P. Dober, AICP, he writes of these secondary spaces

Courtyards and atriums are extended architecture, settings for campus life, configured, defined, enclosed by a building or buildings. Often neglected because of expedient cost-cutting measure, these are superb opportunities for creating significant designs-places where people can gather to participate in institutional life informally duning daily routines. Should there be a will to generate a significant surge in the quality of campus architecture in the near future, courtyards and atriums would be a productive area to achieve such effects, adding Great Spaces to Great Walls. (page 235)

The plan states that Ross courtyard is the only legible courtyard on campus. Bounded by LaForce and the start of HMKL, this space features a plaza in front of the dining hall, public art, and a large swath of lawn. It does speak to our Atwater project, though, in stating

Atwater Court should be developed north of Le Chateau. Currently, Atwater Commons does not have a courtyard, and the provision of one is difficult. Nevertheless, one could be designed with strong landscape elements that incorporate the existing rock outcrop.

So there is the gauntlet thrown. Don’t forget to read Tim Spear’s post on The Commons Factor in the Atwater Landscape Design Competition. But the space remains the same, even if it isn’t branded ‘Atwater’ any longer.

Plant Selection

I’ve realized that the process of picking plant varieties may be difficult, and an online search will probably yield far too much information to be of any use at all. So, without further ado, here are my recommendations for good places to start when choosing plants for your landscape design.

One of the first places to look would be the Middlebury College Master Plan, which speaks in great depth to the natural systems and communities on campus. The Natural Systems chapter (PDF) is a trove of information on native trees, shrubs, and herbaceous plant types found in clayplain forest communities. But I wouldn’t stop there.

As students of my Urban Forestry J-Term class learned, there is no such thing as a ‘native’ tree in an urban setting. Local stresses, such as root and soil compaction, wreck havoc on many of our native tree species, so non-invasive alternatives should be considered as well to increase the diversity of our urban jungle. For a couple of years now I’ve relied on a now out-dated book printed by the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources called “Recommended Trees for Vermont Communities”. They’ve been working on a new addition, and I’ve gotten permission to make availible the PDF of the new version, called “Vermont Tree Selection Guide”. This copy is only a rough draft, but glancing through it this morning I’m quite impressed.

Other online tools will be of some help as well. The University of Illinois Extension has an online tree selector, as well as an online shrub selector. Another good online tree selector is hosted by the US Forest Service.

An online book availible for design help, and well worth the 7MB download, would be The Road to a Thoughtful Street Tree Master Plan, availible for download at the Urban Forestry South website. One final (shorter) publication to read would be “Right Plant, Right Place”-A Plant Selection Guide for Managed Landscapes. This has some great plant lists that are very applicable to Vermont.

For wetland plantings, or other general information, the first catalog I always grab is from New England Wetland Plants. For perennial flowers, the master of all lists resides at the wonderful Van Berkum Nursery in New Hampshire.

And if you’re still overwhelmed, give me a shout. Nothing I like better than talking plants.

A Little Light History

I’m a fool for GIS, just looking for an excuse to take a class someday. For fun, I’ve made a couple of pictures using ArcGIS of the Atwater area in three years, 2006, 1974, and 1942. The pictures all show the exact same area. I don’t know if they will be of any help in the contest or not, but a little history never hurt anyone. As always, click on the image for the full size picture. And if any geography majors know of any other aerial photos I’m missing let me know…

Atwater Area in 2006

Atwater Area in 1974

Atwater Area in 1942

Baseline Improvements

As has been stated previously, a budget for the Atwater Landscape re-design has already been approved. This will include some baseline improvements to the Atwater site, items that we in Facilities feel need to be done to address some serious issues. This will also give the potential designer a good reference point, or at the very least less things to consider in the plan.

One major area of concern we’ve had is the area along the sidewalk next to Atwater A, the building to the west. This area has seen many washouts in heavy rain events, and creates a hazardous condition for pedestrians. We plan to add an additional storm drain just south of the intersecting sidewalk that runs east/west between the two halls, tying into the existing storm drain line already in place. Careful site grading in the two sections of quad will also help alleviate some of the drainage issues. With this storm drain in place, the reinforced turf area can be addressed, and the surrounding lawn fixed.

Speaking of lawn, in the three main sections of quad between the two dormitories and to the south of Chateau, we plan to remove most of the thin, shallow topsoil in place, and blend this with imported soil, to create a uniform 6” topsoil layer in all quads. The poor condition of the lawn and surrounding plantings can be traced directly to the soil beneath them-a thin, rocky, compacted soil at an insufficient depth to promote active plant growth.

At the upper end of the quad lie two gravel pathways. These were put in by Facilities Services a year or so ago, after being turned into pathways by student popularity. Whenever I see these pathways I think of Keene State, where, after building several dormitories, let the students walk across bare ground, no sidewalks, for several months, and then choose sidewalk locations based on the democracy seen in the dirt. These two gravel paths, not included in the original plan for Atwater, will be formalized with concrete.

The blacktop path leading down to the Atwater Dining Hall, while ADA compliant, can and will be made better with a re-design.

As has been stated before, while these baseline improvements are planning to be made, they are by no means “off the table”. Should you come up with a better solution to solve the problems presented, feel free to include them in your plan.

Urban Thoughts

While on the site visit last November, the group was very fortunate to be joined by Professor John McLeod, a Visiting Assistant Professor of Architecture. At the end of the tour, we were standing down by the Atwater residence halls parking lot, next to the retention pond there, and, looking up toward Château, Professor McLeod remarked how the space had a very urban feel to it. I was intrigued, and asked him to elaborate. Below is his wonderful response back to me-I even learned a new word (fenestration, trying to find an excuse to use it today).


I made the comment at the site walk-through in November that the Atwater space is in some ways more urban than rural.  This observation was based primarily on the proportion of the space–that is, the height-to-width ratio in the space between Halls A and B.  I don’t know off hand what those dimensions are, but they give the space the feel of a street, at least to me.  While a Vermont village green is sometimes longish and rectangular like this space, it is usually bordered by a number of buildings collectively making up the edges, and varying somewhat in height, materials, relationship to the sidewalk, fenestration, etc.  The open space of the green between the edge buildings tends to be much broader than it is high in proportion.  Whereas a good street tends to feel not too wide, yet not too canyon-like.  In the case of Atwater, even with the bends in the two buildings, the ‘street edge’ created by the facades is more hard, planar, and consistent than a typical village green.  You get the sense of being on Main Street in Middlebury in the block between Merchants Row and the Battell Bridge.  Or possibly on a cross street in uptown Manhattan, or a Parisian boulevard.  Speaking of Paris, the Atwater space also has a Renaissance axial quality to it, terminating at the Chateau at the south end and opening to the landscape to the north.  In this sense it is similar to Thomas Jefferson’s design for the Lawn at the University of Virginia–itself a space with urban qualities–with the Rotunda (library) at the head and once-open views to the mountains at the opposite end.  Finally, the entrances and communal spaces on the ground level of Halls A and B, with the dwelling spaces on the upper levels, again reminds me of the Battell Block in Middlebury or a street in New York City.

Sustainable Sites

There are a myriad of ways to determine if a project is sustainable, LEED certification coming immediately to mind. There is, however, a new model, started by the American Society of Landscape Architects and the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, since joined by the United States Botanical Garden. This project, called the Sustainable Sites Initiative, has published a document on rating just how sustainable a landscape project is, from design through construction. Experts from across the country are developing sustainable benchmarks for all aspects of landscape projects, from design to construction. This is landscape specific, and goes far beyond LEED certification, which is all-encompassing for green building in general.

I can’t imagine we will be scoring the project based on these guidelines, but I highly recommend reading, or at the very least skimming through the Sustainable Sites document (PDF, large!) for ideas and inspiration. Even the website itself is a trove of information, with good pages on Hydrology, Soils, Vegetation, Materials, and my favorite, and perhaps the most important to our project, Human Health and Well-being. Given some serious constraints of the site I think we’d be hard pressed to ‘score’ well on some of the construction guidelines, but we’ll do our best.

Middlebury even has a connection to this project-Jose Alminana is on the technical steering committee. He’s a principal of Andropogon Associates, who’ve done extensive landscape design work here, and is a parent ’10. And an all around nice guy.