Friday, June 6, 2003

From parking lot to reading paradise

HANK DANISZEWSKI, Free Press Reporter 2003-06-06 03:38:23

A parking lot will be turned back into paradise this summer when the Rotary Reading Garden is created at the new Central Library. The $1-million project, funded entirely through public donations, was officially launched yesterday with a ceremonial pavement smashing.

Over the next five months, the nearly 1,700-square-metre space at Dundas and Wellington streets between the library and the former TD Bank building will be filled with trees, flower beds, waterfalls, benches, stone walkways, a small stage, a bridge and an outdoor cafe.

Library chief executive Darrel Skidmore said the Canadian Urban Institute is looking at the reading garden as a model project.

"They are interested in what North America's first reading garden will look like. That's the kind of prominence we are getting across the continent," he said.

Library board chairperson Martha Curgin said the garden will be the glory of the new $29-million central library that opened last year.

"If you have a garden and a good book, you have everything you need, and we are going to have both right here," she said, paraphrasing the Roman philosopher Cicero.

Architect Jim Vafiades said it was challenging designing so many features for a small downtown space. He said urban development tends to overlook projects on a human scale.

"Economics takes over and the idea of creating a green space in the concrete jungle is just a dream," Vafiades said.

Public consultation played a big part in the design and features of the garden, he said.

"We wanted it to look like someone's backyard, but we wanted a variety of places where people can sit by themselves or gather in large groups."

Vafiades said security features such as masonry and glass block walls and metal mesh had to be discretely incorporated into the design because of the downtown setting and the threat of vandalism.

He said the garden will function as on outdoor room of the library, with gates at each entrance that can be locked at night. Although there will be a streetside cafe, the access to the main part of the garden will be from inside the library.

So far, $650,000 has been raised toward the $1-million goal, with $400,000 coming from the Rotary clubs of London.

Skidmore said about $50,000 was shaved from the cost of the garden by eliminating some smaller features.

The Rotary Clubs will be holding an "elegant" rummage sale June 14 and 15 at Western Fair grounds as part of the fundraising drive.


- Children's Garden -- located adjacent to the children's library. The garden will be a secure space for storytime and children's activities.

- Water Wall -- located at the rear of the garden. The sound of the flowing water will create a soothing atmosphere

- Pergola Stage -- A performing arts area with seating for 120. It will host music, drama and author readings.

- The Rill -- A small elevated stream running through the middle of the garden.

- Secret Garden -- A small garden in the southeast corner with more exotic plantings.

- Reading Court -- an outdoor extension of The London Free Press Reading room.

- Birchwood and Garden Green -- plantings of Carolinian trees native to the London area.

- Orchard Garden -- features planting of species from London's pioneer past.

- Wood Bridge -- crosses a rill, providing access to both halves of the garden.

- The Gate -- an ornate garden gate on the Wellington Street entrance.

- London on the Green -- a large grass area for gatherings.

Copyright © The London Free Press 2001,2002,2003

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