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Jan. 7, 2009
Contact: Berry Clemens, Kansas Biological Survey, (785) 864-1525.

KU architecture students team with donors to build overlook at nature preserve

LAWRENCE — A new overlook structure three miles north of Lawrence will provide a spectacular view of the Kansas River valley, Lawrence and the University of Kansas.

Located at KU’s Field Station and Ecological Reserves, the viewing platform is the result of combined efforts of KU architecture students and Lawrence residents Dick and Sue Himes.

The Himeses provided funds to KU Endowment for construction supplies. KU architecture students designed and built the 400-square-foot deck.

The structure is on a cliff at the edge of KU’s Rockefeller Prairie. When completed in early 2009, the viewing platform will include a 20-foot-long curving bench, representative of waving fields of Kansas wheat.

The Himeses said they were pleased to help with the development of the McColl Nature Reserve. They said the overlook structure is just one part of the overall plan to encourage the public to visit and enjoy the Rockefeller Prairie and to understand why such areas should be preserved for future generations.

In spring 2009, an accessible concrete walking trail, funded in part by a grant from the Sunflower Foundation, will lead from a public parking area along the southern edge of the Rockefeller Prairie to the overlook.

Nils Gore, associate professor of architecture, said the construction project provided a valuable experience for architecture students.

“It’s probably the first time in their lives, in their fledgling careers in architecture, that the students actually get to see the results of something they designed,” Gore said.

The students learned new skills as they built the structure. They’re collaborating with others and creating something that will be of use to the public.

“It’s a win-win situation,” Gore said. “The students benefit, the public benefits and KU’s field station benefits.”

Gore noted that the Westar Energy Green Team provided lumber cut from recycled telephone poles for the structure’s floor and bench.

The overlook gives a view of the Rockefeller Prairie, a remnant of tallgrass prairie that has remained undisturbed since settlement of the area. It also looks over part of the field station’s Suzanne Ecke McColl Nature Reserve, a 160-acre tract that borders part of the prairie and stretches below the overlook. Robert McColl funded a major portion of that land purchase in 2007, in honor of his wife.

Expressing their gratitude to the McColls for initiating the project with their gift of land, the Himeses said they look forward to bringing their children and grandchildren out to enjoy and appreciate the site.

KU’s Field Station and Ecological Reserves is dedicated to field-based research and environmental education. More than 3,400 acres, including 1,636 contiguous acres north of Lawrence, encompass diverse native and managed habitats and experimental research areas. Both researchers and students use the field station’s support facilities and onsite classrooms and laboratories. Its shelters and interpretative nature trails are open to the public. The field station is emblematic of the need for the preservation of high-quality natural areas for the future.

KU Endowment is the independent, nonprofit organization serving as the official fundraising and fund-management foundation for KU. Founded in 1891, KU Endowment is the first foundation of its kind at a U.S. public university.

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The University of Kansas is a major comprehensive research and teaching university. University Relations is the central public relations office for KU's Lawrence campus.

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