Traverse City Record-Eagle

April 25, 2013

Garden Society creating new home at ex-State Hospital

Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY—Karen Schmidt gave a tour of the Botanic Garden and Historic Barns Park as a cutting wind and hail whipped against her face.

Blooming daffodils and tulips weren't yet part of the show.

“If this weather keeps up, it will be three weeks for the daffodils," Schmidt said. "I might have to stick in plastic ones."

Schmidt is chair of the Botanical Garden Society of Northwest Michigan, which is creating a new home on 25 acres at the former Traverse City State Hospital.

This week the site is sprouting with workers. They are demolishing two buildings — a milk house and bus garage, both built in the 1950s — to make way for gardens.They first removed asbestos and lead paint from several buildings to prepare for the take-down.

In the cathedral barn, floor boards lean against the wall, ready to get laid down again. The boards had been removed, taken offsite and stripped of traces of DDT.

“They used to dip the cows in DDT to keep away the flies and they tracked it in,” said Kurt Schmidt, who co-hosted the tour.

Workers also were expected remove a roof from a former horse barn. The building's stone foundation will wrap around a wildflower garden to create a walled garden.

A former granary will transform into a new Visitor Center over the summer and feature exhibits, bathrooms, and a gift shop. The second floor will house a large classroom to host all things gardening — meetings, gardening classes, and school field trips.

Schmidt expects the Visitor Center to open this fall. The project recently accepted bids, which came in too high. In response, the project is getting downsized and re-bid. Once the contractor is finalized, construction will start, she said.

A pavilion is also taking shape right next to the Visitor Center. The building was slated for demolition until architect Ray Kendra noticed that cement pillars, not the building’s brick walls, held up the roof.

"Ray had a stroke of genius," said Matt Cowell, executive director of the Traverse City/Garfield Township Recreational Authority, which oversees the overall 56-acre development.

“He said, ‘Wait a second. If the pillars are the key, let's just knock out the walls. We'll have a ready-made spot for a pavilion," Cowell said.

An added plus: an underground tunnel connects the pavilion to the Visitor Center, and will remain intact

"People love the tunnel and now it won't get buried," Cowell said.

The fundraising effort has raised $1.4 million in pledges, a little shy of a $1.5 million mark targeted for the end of December. If the goal is achieved, planting and the barn re-hab will begin a year from now, Cowell said

The barn will open for concerts and events by the fall of 2014 if all goes well, Cowell said.

The Visitor Center is getting a head start because the $350,000 project is funded, in part, by the Michigan Resources Trust Fund, which requires the work be completed this summer, Cowell said.

The project also includes a picnic area, wildlife viewing platform, and a paved, 10-foot wide, 3,500-foot trail that will meander from Barnes Road to Silver Drive, Cowell said.

“It will go by the barns and past the community gardens and connect up with an existing trail,” Cowell said. “It will be totally cool.”

Renderings of the Botanic Garden shows a garden that ribbons through wetlands, woodlands and uplands.

“I think this will be a real focal point of the whole region,” Schmidt said.

The Botanic Garden is located just west of the Silver Lake Road entrance into the Grand Traverse Commons.

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