Northeastern receives major beautification grant

It was Lawrence George Durrell who said, “We are the children of our landscape; it dictates behavior and even thought in the measure to which we are responsive to it.” And, it was also somewhat on this premise that the Northeastern Junior College Foundation applied for a beautification project through the Colorado Garden Show, Inc.  Much to its surprise, the college received word at the end of December that it had been selected to receive the largest grant awarded in 2011 by this organization.

 Colorado Garden Show, Inc., a non-profit corporation, provides money for horticultural-related grants, scholarships and events for the benefit of the greater Denver area and the state of Colorado. It has chosen to award its inaugural Andrew Piece Memorial Grant to Northeastern Junior College for $58,000 to landscape its campus. Andrew Pierce, a well-known individual in the Colorado horticulture industry, passed away this past September. He was a longtime Colorado Garden Show board member and active participant in the annual show. A former horticulture director at the Denver Botanic Gardens, Pierce helped open and design Hudson Gardens. To memorialize his passion and commitment to this community, Colorado Garden Show created a scholarship in his name in December 2011.

Northeastern Junior College, through its foundation, has been working diligently the past year to improve the campus through beautification projects. A number of local companies, organizations and individuals have generously stepped forward to help with this project. Cindy Johnson, executive director of the foundation has also been working to identify sources for supplemental grant money. She put together a major grant proposal entitled “Landscape Inspirations for the High Plains” which was presented to the Colorado Garden Show, Inc. in mid-December. The college has enjoyed an ongoing relationship with the Colorado Garden Show as in 2008, through the efforts of NJC employee Kathy Rice who submitted a grant application, NJC was awarded a $12,000 grant to create a community garden on campus. As a result of that grant, there is now a nicely landscaped area between Hays Student Center and E. S. French Hall which includes a walking path, bench and pergola.  In addition, with that same grant, a small herb garden was also added to campus in the outside courtyard of Pete’s Retreat, a small eatery on campus in the student center.  Plants in these two locations, all specifically chosen because they do well in this climate, are labeled so that students and others who visit these areas may take a self-guided walking tour of the garden. These planted plots have been serving as educational tools as well as campus improvements.

If you have traveled through the campus in the last six months, you’ve probably noticed the huge improvements that have been made to date. The new signage and landscaping at the entrance located at Sydney Avenue and Landrum Lane were made possible through gifts, both monetary and in-kind, primarily from the Sterling Rotary Club, Sterling Monument Company and Country Gardens Nursery. Venture on down Landrum Lane to the front of the Phillips Whyman building and you see beautiful new landscape in front of that building, made possible primarily by gifts from Jackson Insurance Company, Tennant Funeral Home and Crematory and Pizza Hut.  Other recent improvements on campus include new landscaping in front of and near the Guenzi-Read-Breidenbach (GRB) residence hall on campus, including nice stone planters which also serve as seating areas and provide great outdoor space for students. These improvements were made possible primarily through gifts from Wells Fargo Bank, Johnson and Associates, CPAs, PC, and the Associated Student Government on campus. Numerous others have been involved in these campus projects, including Total Lawn Care, Sterling Correctional Facility and multiple, random donors who have given financially to the foundation. All and all, these generous community members and corporate citizens have given an estimated $50,000 in cash and in-kind donations toward campus beautification.

The $58,000 from the Colorado Garden Show will help allow the campus to proceed with several new, much needed beautification projects.  It is the hope of the Foundation that through this donation, it can help create a more attractive, unified and welcoming campus environment by bringing a variety of low-maintenance, drought-tolerant trees, plants and flowers to the campus to provide shade, seasonal color and visual appeal.  “The leadership at NJC has known for a long time that the college’s outward appearance has not adequately reflected the excellent education that is offered here,” notes Cindy Johnson, executive director of the NJC Foundation. “There has been no regional educational model for appropriate landscape design and plant selection and consequently, our campus has not had a cohesive landscape plan,” she points out. “As a leader in northeastern Colorado, NJC is very committed to putting these items in place. We hope that through our campus beautification efforts, we provide a landscape model to showcase plant species and as a result, area residents have a place to learn about botanicals which are best suited to our region. We hope others will use our example to learn how to choose and care for various plant species in our semi-arid climate.”

Areas of campus to see improvements as a result of this grant will include the elevated planter area on the east end of the Hays Student Center, the courtyard area in front of the Bank of Colorado Event Center, the Walker Hall administrative building, and the bell tower promenade which is a well-traveled walkway between the primary buildings in the center of campus.

At least 36 varieties of botanicals, all specifically chosen because they should do well in this area, have been identified for these projects. Kimberly Harford of Country Gardens Nursery, LTD, has been working with Johnson to plan the various landscape improvements, purposely identifying as many low maintenance options as possible.

“We know that having a prettier campus will help us with student recruitment and student retention,” Johnson notes. “Students like nice surroundings. I think we all do. And, if an area is landscaped well and feels good to those spending time there, they are far more likely to help keep it nice.”

The landscape projects covered by this Colorado Garden Show grant will begin early this spring and are expected to be completed by September. This wonderful gift to the college will help considerably in its efforts to further improve the campus. There are still other beautification projects being discussed for other areas of campus including one which will be paid for, in part, by the NJC Alumni Association.

“Landscaping is expensive,” notes Johnson, “this grant is a huge boost to our effort and we are so grateful for it. We hope it will help us continue to create even more synergy which will inspire others to want to contribute dollars to this ongoing work.”

The Colorado Garden Show provides grants and scholarships from proceeds generated from the annual Colorado Garden & Home Show and the Colorado Fall Home Show to support Colorado’s horticulture industry. Since the 1970s, Colorado Garden Show has awarded more than $4.5 million for horticultural projects and scholarships throughout the state. A total of $500,000 in grants and scholarships will be awarded by the Colorado Garden Show in 2012. Remaining grant winners will be announced and acknowledged at an annual award ceremony in May.

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