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University Center receives ‘interiorscaping’

November 6, 2008

  The UW-River Falls University Center acquired new plant life on Oct. 28 after a design company, McCaren Design Inc., was hired by a committee that scored three different design companies that proposed putting plants in the UC.

  Walking into the south entrance there are two trees reaching to the top of the next level. There are also new plants on the bridge, in the fireplace lounge, on either side of the Information Desk and near the main entrances. McCaren brought in over 40 plants to the building with 10 different types. Some of the plants are Hawaiian Warneckii cane, Kentia palm, Black Gold Snake plant and the Silver Bay Chinese evergreen.

  The committee looked at different aspects when choosing the companies, such as overall concepts, placements, color, price, style of pots, scale, ease of maintenance and design elements. The project was funded by student segregated fees and came out just under $25,000, according to Cara Rubis, assistant director of the University Center and committee member.

  “McCaren was the only one that knew we had to have tall trees,” Rubis said regarding the south entrance of the building.

  The lead of the project from the design company, Troy Branter, is a UWRF alum from the horticulture department. The other two companies scored were Bachman’s and Regent’s, both from the Twin Cities.

  “It being a ‘green building,’ we needed more nature and life to it,” Rubis said. “The plants decrease stress and give that the close-to-nature feeling.”

  The old plants were brought to the University Center from Hagestad Hall. Their simple houseplant size did not do the space justice with its extreme height, according to Rubis. The old plants will be repotted and put in offices and cubicles of the Involvement Center and University Center offices. Some of the plants will be free to anyone who wants to take them.

  The Horticulture Society once took care of those now scraggly old plants in Hagestad Hall by simply dusting them. On the Tuesday the design team installed the new plants, a plant care specialist taught members of the Horticulture Society how to care for the plants, as the society will be the caretakers of the building’s greens. Such plant care tasks include pruning, providing new soil and removing dead and damaged leaves for the smaller plants. 

  The trees require extendable pruners to remove any rubbing branches, crossing branches or any branches that are too big. Two of the three trees are located either near windows or railings. Pruning also involves keeping the trees’ shape and to increase light and air flow through the branches and the dining services.

  All issues dealing with pests are for the greenhouse manager, who is certified to use pesticides and natural ways, to rid of bugs that suck moisture from the trees.

  “The trees are transitioning from a different environment now. They were grown in Florida and this is the first time they are indoors,” Alyssa Janilla, president of the Horticulture Society, said. “They won’t use as much water or nutrients as outdoor life in Florida.”

  The Horticulture Society will not be watering the plants. All of the new plants have an irrigation system in the pot and a member of the University Center staff will be watering the plants on a weekly basis.

  “The finger test only shows what it is like on the top of the soil. The irrigation system in the pot will tell you how much water the roots need,” Rubis said.

  The plants’ health may also be impacted by their location near a door or a vent. The choice of hearty plants was a must for the committee putting the regional cold temperatures into consideration. All locations of the plants are strategic and not only for aesthetics.

  “Indoor greenery can also remove toxins,” Janilla said. “Say if the building got new carpet or new paint. It will make the air quality better as well as create a relaxing atmosphere.”

  According to Terry Ferriss, UWRF professor of plant and earth science, NASA research found that plants were the most efficient air filtering system for space shuttles. Plants proved even more efficient than man-made systems.

  Green plants are beneficial to human and environmental health because they absorb carbon dioxide and produce oxygen. Leafy, green trees produce as much oxygen in a single season as 10 people inhale in a year, according to The Forestry Guide by Steve Nix.

  “Plants are generally healthy to have around. Studies have shown that plants in urban areas reduce crime and vandalism,” Ferris said. “They have a psychological impact on people. They make you feel more positive. Hospitals use indoor plants for faster healing.”

  The Horticulture Society will continue to be in contact with McCaren Design Inc. for any future additional plants. As the current members of the club work hard to maintain the plants, they must also pass the knowledge and practice on to the future members of the club.

  “I graduate in the spring, so it will be up to the new members,” Janilla said. “We plan on adding more plants in a new study nook [along the wall in front of the Involvement Center].” 

  Some potential plant changes will include wheels on the bottom of the pots to be able to move them around for events in the Riverview Ballroom.

  “If it were up to me, I would have plants in every classroom,” Ferris said. “This project will be a model for the future.”

  According to Ferris, people will respect the areas that have the plants. However, vandalism is still a minor threat to the new greens.

  “Garbage is a concern. We have to instill the respect in people,” Janilla said. “Everyone should know that they are here for a purpose. There was no plant life in the ‘green building.’ It just creates a better environment.”