Students walk by the fence that stretches across Johnston Green.
Students walk by the fence on Johnston Green.

If you saw the giant fence that stretches diagonally across Johnston Green, don’t panic. The fence isn’t permanent: it’s just the first step in a campus renovation project that will cover the popular pathway with crushed stone. Part of the campus master plan, the walkway is one of three projects slated for completion in time for U of G’s 50th anniversary in 2014.

Generations of students and other pedestrians have transformed a strip of Johnston Green into a beaten path. Owen Scott, BSA ’65, recalls walking down the “cow path,” as it was known when he was a landscape horticulture student.

He worked on campus improvement projects during his summer jobs and later employment with Project Planning Associates, a Toronto-based landscape firm. If you’ve walked down Winegard Walk or past the Bovey Building or South Residence, you’ve probably seen his landscaping work. In 1968, he designed the front entrance of Creelman Hall, including the staircase and plaza. Those are currently being renovated by Landplan, the company where he now works.

The Guelph-based landscape architecture firm is also overseeing renovations to the corner of Gordon Street and College Avenue and the plaza in front of War Memorial Hall.

After receiving his master’s degree in landscape architecture from the University of Michigan, Scott taught the subject at U of G from 1969 to 1981. Many of his Landplan colleagues, all of whom are Guelph grads, have also taught here as sessional instructors.

The Johnston Green walkway is being resurfaced because “it’s getting to be a bit dangerous,” says Scott.  “There’s a steep slope and it gets icy in winter.” Rain and snow turn the pathway into a muddy and icy mess, forcing pedestrians along its periphery and making the pathway even wider.

Once completed, the gravel walkway will be three metres wide, allowing it to be plowed in winter. Paving stones to be laid along 70 metres of the pathway from the corner of College and Gordon are intended to keep rainwater from eroding the slope.

The landscape advisory committee at U of G considered a number of options for improving the walkway, such as paving it, “which didn’t feel right,” says Jill Vigers, manager of architectural design, Department of Physical Resources. The gravel walkway will resemble a pathway in Guelph’s Riverside Park. Adds Scott: “We felt that the limestone pathway would be the least intrusive, and it would keep people on their feet instead of falling in the mud.”

The corner of College and Gordon will become a more recognizable entrance to campus following construction of a wall bearing the University’s name in metal letters.

Plans to repave the asphalt laneway and turning circle in front of War Memorial Hall became “an opportunity to do something better,” says Vigers. The area in front of the main entrance will become a square lined with paving stones for students waiting before class and for guests attending events such as convocation. Workers will adjust grading from the square to the sidewalk to make it wheelchair-accessible and compliant with the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. Traffic on the laneway will be restricted to authorized vehicles.

At Gordon Street and Stone Road, a Gryphon statue designed by Fastwürms (U of G artists Kim Kozzi and Dai Skuse) will be unveiled in June 2014. Seating areas, U of G signage and a lighted pathway running diagonally to South Ring Road are also planned for the space. The project is being overseen by landscape architect Wendy Shearer, BLA ’81, of MHBC – Planning, Urban Design & Landscape Architecture.

“The corners are what you see first,” says Vigers of the decision to make both ends of Gordon Street more visible to passersby. Having these visual markers “creates a sense of place and identity.”