Last month Student Government and Facilities Management unveiled a brand-new outdoor study space affectionately called “The Grove”. The Grove is located in the wooded area between Enterprise Hall, the Arts and Design Building, and Research Hall. The space features several tables and seating areas in a well-cleared, mulched area below the canopy of some of Mason’s beautiful trees. Here is what Hunter Young, Clerk of the Student Senate and the project’s student leader, has to say about the development of The Grove:
It Starts With an Idea…
The Grove started as an idea from former University Life and current Student Body Vice President David O’Connell in late fall 2019. A discussion between us brought the issue of the lack of outdoor seating present on campus, particularly in the shade, to my attention. During nice weather in the spring and the fall, it can be difficult to find seating outside to eat lunch, socialize, or study between classes. I believed this issue to be especially important because of Mason’s large commuter population. Some of these commuters have long breaks between classes and it was difficult to find adequate outdoor seating. Vice President O’Connell had also highlighted a lack of hammock-friendly locations on campus. After Vice President O’Connell introduced this idea, it became my primary initiative my role as Undersecretary for Facilities and I quickly looped in Undersecretary for Sustainability Sara Babcock. I introduced the idea to Facilities Administration at our monthly post-Mason Stewards meeting and they supported the idea full heartedly. The main people who were involved in this project were Director of Facilities Management Tad Drerenberger, Associate Director of Operations for Facilities Management Steve Vollmer, and Erich Miller the Grounds Program Manager; in addition, Vice President of Facilities Frank Strike supported the project but was not involved directly in the project.
From Support to Action
One of the first steps was to choose a location for the project, which at the time was known simply as “the outdoor study space initiative”. I met with then-University Life Chair O’Connell and then-Undersecretary for Sustainability Sara Babcock. In addition, received input from the Chair of the Services Committee, Julian Bennett, and then-Services Secretary Taylor Moore on the best potential locations. As a team we decided that the area between the aforementioned wooded area was to be the ideal location. Then-Chair O’Connell and I met on site with Steve Volmer and Erich Miller to discuss the location. Erich Miller said that he would prepare to add the clearing of the underbrush and the mulching of the area to his list. The area was picked for a couple to reason: the large trees provided excellent shade and plenty of hammock spots, it is surrounded by commonly visited buildings, there is minimal road noise, and it is a short walk from the Johnson Center.
One of the pleasant surprises we encountered during the course of this initiative was the ease at which we secured funding for the project. Facilities dministration was supportive of the project from the beginning and was quickly able to secure $10,000 for the purchase of tables. Student Government was able to pick the tables and selected six picnic tables made from recycled materials.
The final step of the project was selecting the name of the new study space and deigning the signs which now label the area. Our team wanted to come up with a catchy name for the area to make it more appealing to students and for it to be identified easier rather than simply saying, “the tables in the shade between Engineering, Enterprise, Research, and the Art and Design Building.” I worked closely with Chair Bennet, then-Secretary Moore, then-Chair O’Connell, and then-Undersecretary Babcock on the name and worked on the design of the sign and with Steve Vollmer from Facilities.
Unfortunately progress was just starting on this project when COVID-19 began in March 2020. After students left campus the landscaping was completed for the area but shipping delays pushed back the arrival of the tables by a couple of months. Luckily, over the summer the tables arrived and installed along with the signs.
The Grove is a great example of Student Government’s success and advocacy for the student-body. Our team worked across branches and closely with administration to tackle a project that we believe will benefit the student body. Seating outside has never been more important on campus than it is right now due to COVID-19, and the area will be a beautiful place for students to relax, hammock, eat, study, and socialize this semester and for years to come.