Landscaping beautifies UTEP campus

By on October 12, 2014

UTEP campus prior to recent construction.

UTEP campus prior to recent construction. (File Photo)

Editor’s note: The following is part of a weekly series commemorating The University of Texas at El Paso’s Centennial Celebration in 2014.

As the car radio blared the Beach Boys harmonizing “I Get Around,” Texas Western College freshman Marcia Salcedo had no problem parking her 1957 pink-and-white Nash Metropolitan on campus.

The El Paso native said one of her initial college concerns was the lack of campus parking. Fortunately, her five-foot wide subcompact allowed her to park almost anywhere.

Fifty years later, retired educator Marcia McNamee, as she is now known, laughed that campus parking was an issue even then. The alumna, an active member of The University of Texas at El Paso’s Heritage Commission and Woman’s Auxiliary, also recalled the college had little landscaping beyond the grassy Memorial Triangle in the center of campus.

Today, she marveled at how the spaces between the campus’ buildings are going green with arroyos, water-channeling acequias, and native and drought-resistant trees and shrubs. UTEP’s core, including the planned Centennial Plaza is being transformed into a pedestrian-friendly area where people can relax, socialize and collaborate under an umbrella of trees and shade structures.

“I think it’s wonderful,” she said enthusiastically. “It will make the center of campus the hub of activity and that’s as it should be. [Centennial Plaza] will be the spirit of the campus.”

Most of UTEP’s Centennial Plaza is scheduled to be completed this fall. The new look of the campus open spaces will be far different from when only Mother Nature provided landscaping between the initial buildings of the Texas State School of Mines and Metallurgy. During the school’s first three years, landscaping was not a funding priority in Austin.

That changed in the 1930s after civic groups and the federally funded Works Progress Administration began to level the terrain, build retaining walls, construct paved roads and walking paths, and plant trees in an effort to connect the new dorms with administrative, athletic and service facilities.

Texas College of Mines President Dossie Wiggins created a $1 million post-war building program wish list to improve and beautify the campus. Among the projects was $25,000 for the creation of a triangular lawn area that subsequently included a war memorial with a flagpole, recently relocated in a more prominent position overlooking Centennial Plaza.

Mission ’73, a committee of El Paso and Juárez leaders, was tasked in the early 1960s to prepare a planning document for the college for its 50th in 1964. Under the heading of “Land and Buildings,” the group suggested the campus core be reserved for pedestrians and that vehicles be excluded with parking on the periphery.

That plan was shelved because college leaders had to deal with a student population boom that sent enrollment skyrocketing from 5,449 in 1962 to 15,752 in 1978. The focus was on new construction and converting dorms into classrooms.

In 2011, the University unveiled a new master plan that incorporated parts of the Mission ’73 vision for a Campus Transformation proposal. The designs called for open spaces, bike paths, shade areas and several strategically placed multilevel parking garages on the University’s perimeter. Discussions started in 2009 and involved national architectural firms. Preliminary projects started in fall 2011.

Christine Ten Eyck, owner and president of Austin-based Ten Eyck Landscape Architects, Inc., was hired to add her vision to the plan. She said the new designs with the natural or drought-resistant trees and vegetation will delight the senses with its contrasts in colors and textures, and will exercise the mind as a showcase of how engineers can develop low-impact infrastructure.

“It’s helping UTEP be an example of an environmentally conscious campus,” she said.

The 11-acre Centennial Plaza project will include an oval lawn of Bermuda grass outlined by multi-textured walkways, a decorative UTEP history timeline, and various species of shade trees. There also will be terraces, special lighting, natural arroyos, and much more.

“Those of us involved in planning the transformation always will treasure this opportunity to build a foundation for the next generation,” said Nestor Infanzon,

UTEP’s director of planning and construction.

Daniel Perez is a senior writer for UTEP’s University Communications office.

Daniel Perez is a senior writer in UTEP's Office of University Communications.