University Hall plaza updates feature smart irrigation system, new trees

The newly renovated University Hall Plaza. Photo: Joshua Clark

UIC staff worked quickly this summer to renovate the University Hall plaza in time for the first day of classes with the aim of enhancing the student experience.

The project, which was completed in less than a month, is one of three grounds improvement projects being executed by the Office of Planning, Sustainability and Project Management on the east side of campus this semester.

Jonathan Fair, the interim director of planning and design within PSPM, and Carly Rizor, the superintendent of grounds, worked together to “identify a cost-effective and timely solution to beautify the west plaza space that also addressed some long-standing maintenance issues with the site,” Fair said.

For example, the steep slopes of the original landscape caused soil erosion to occur. The displaced soil caused drainage issues as well as prevented plants from thriving. The renovated landscape has milder slopes that will allow the grass and any future plantings to thrive.

To allow the soil to be regraded for gentler slopes, five trees needed to be removed from the plaza. UIC has a tree replacement policy that mandates that any trees removed for construction are replaced; new tree plantings are ongoing and will be completed in October.

“We nearly doubled that requirement and installed 14 new trees in the plaza,” Fair said. “This addition helps to support our campus goal of fostering a diverse, robust tree canopy.”

Nonfunctioning fountains were infilled, and broken pavers were patched to create a level and accessible walkway throughout the plaza and approaching University Hall’s west entrance.  

“Aside from being visually unappealing, the defunct fountains and broken pavers throughout the site presented tripping hazards for students, faculty and staff,” Fair said. 

To ensure that the new trees, grass and any future plantings in the plaza will thrive, an irrigation system was installed in the west plaza landscape. All new irrigation systems installed at UIC are smart irrigation systems, which provide water to plant material based on a schedule and weather.

Two additional grounds projects are planned this semester. One project includes site improvements to the northeast plaza at the Behavioral Sciences Building, which will resolve more erosion and flooding issues caused by steep slopes in addition to providing an accessible entrance to the building entry adjacent to the space.

Another project includes renovating the landscape under the covered walkway between the Science and Engineering Laboratory East and West buildings with new plants and irrigation. This walkway is a major thoroughfare for students traveling north to the core of the east side of campus, as well as those traveling between the Science and Engineering buildings.

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