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Drake Library moves ahead in landscape redesign

Drake Library moves ahead in landscape redesign. Contributed photo.

This spring, Drake Community Library is moving into the second phase of its landscape redesign. The library features prairie plants and grasses in their landscape, but decided last year to remove these plants in some areas and replace them with more conventional landscaping.

The first part of the project, completed last year, focused on making the streetscape more appealing to visitors, including planting Rhizomatous Tall Fescue grass, which will be greener and look ‘cleaner.’

“This whole campaign has been about bringing people together, making our library grounds a gateway to the prairie, versus trying to be the prairie,” said Library Director Marilyn Kennett. “We reevaluated our goals and purposes and therefore did more of a conventional landscaping on our streetscape because literally there were comments that people couldn’t find us because they thought we were an abandoned school building.”

Drake Library moves ahead in landscape redesign. Contributed photo.
Drake Library moves ahead in landscape redesign. Contributed photo.

The second part of the landscaping project will focus on structural improvements which are necessary for the prairie to be successful and accessible.

“We have to be able to have people who are in their hiking boots and their high heels,” Kennett said. “We need to accommodate people in their high heels with pathways and park benches and we need to accommodate people who want to delve into the prairie by leaving as much natural as we can. That’s the convergence, the compromise that we’re aiming for.”

This includes building permeable pavement walkways in several places in the prairie. The permeable pavement allows for water to move through spaces in the pavers and there are special soils underneath to absorb water, which is not presently being absorbed due to the high amounts of clay left in the soil after the construction of the library.

Additionally, areas of bioswale will be added in order to help solve erosion problems and keep excess rainwater on site. They help to improve water quality and convey heavy rains to storm sewers.

At the start of this project, the library was in a difficult position as community members had conflicting positions over the prairie landscape.

“They had some folks in the community thanking them for installing the prairie and others telling them that it was an eyesore and to rip it out. I met with the Drake Library board of directors and convinced them to give us a little time to manage the prairie before getting rid of it,” wrote Center for Prairie Studies Outreach Coordinator Elizabeth Hill in an email to The S&B. “Prairies are composed of a large diversity of perennial plants, and they take a while to grow, so it is going to take a while before the prairie reaches our goals of beauty and functioning, but it will be worth the wait.”

The library, in its decisions about what to do with the landscaping, was forced to consider their patrons and the expectations they had for the space.

“You can’t change people’s perceptions overnight and we don’t necessarily want to. This is a public library and we have to be acceptable to all populations and be inviting to everybody. So we don’t want our grounds to have any negativity to them,” Kennett said.

Through the implementation of these changes, the Center for Prairies Studies has remained pleased with the direction the landscape is headed.

“The Drake Library board and its patrons are partnering to support creating an aesthetic and sustainable landscape, a balance between a highly manicured urban landscape and a tallgrass prairie wildland, a veritable temperate jungle,” Hill wrote.

The Drake Community Library and the Center for Prairie Studies see the continuation of this project as a crucial part of the Grinnell community.

“It is important to our community, ‘The Jewel of the Prairie,’ because it represents our connection to our place within the prairie region and our commitment to sustainable design and development,” Hill wrote.

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