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Contest Plants Seeds of Rebirth at CSUCI Campus

Sunset magazine is soliciting design ideas from landscapers for restoring four old courtyards to their formal splendor.

October 26, 2003|Fred Alvarez | Times Staff Writer

The courtyards at Cal State Channel Islands have seen better days, having become weed-choked and overgrown with age and neglect. But now the new university near Camarillo is sowing seeds to change all that.

The university has teamed with Sunset magazine to sponsor a courtyard restoration competition, calling on landscape architects and designers across the nation to bring their best ideas for returning four of the garden spaces to their original splendor.

Submissions for the contest, announced in the magazine's November issue, are due by Jan. 1. Winners will receive a Sunset award and see their plans put into action at the Mission-style campus, California's newest public university.

"We want to bring the courtyards back to life as part of maintaining the beautiful architectural inheritance of the campus," Channel Islands President Richard Rush said.

"This partnership with Sunset really does bring a stamp of approval and credibility to our efforts to make this campus one of the most beautiful in the state."

There are about 30 courtyards on the campus, which opened last fall at the former Camarillo State Hospital. Once green and leafy, they provided a thriving complement to the Spanish-style architecture of the hospital complex.

But after the hospital closed in 1997 and a college campus emerged in its place, university leaders found they didn't have enough money to open a new school and keep up the courtyards.

Now, thanks to their partnership with Sunset, they will soon get that chance.

Sunset Senior Garden Editor Kathleen Brenzel said the magazine was drawn to the restoration project in part because of the opportunities to blend landscape design with historic California architecture.

But Brenzel said it also was important to the magazine that the finished product -- four distinctly designed courtyards surrounding the campus core -- be seen by scores of students and visitors well into the future, perhaps providing inspiration to generations of home gardeners.

"We love the opportunity here for trying some new things and showing off ideas that people can take with them and use in their own gardens," said Brenzel, adding that Sunset will help judge the competition and follow the restoration effort as it unfolds.

"Also, we realize that gardens, big and small, are wonderful places for just sitting and reflecting," Brenzel said. "And what better place to do that than on a college campus."

Already, several landscape designers have responded to the call for contest entries in Sunset's November issue, which began reaching the magazine's 1.6 million subscribers last weekend. The university will host a walk-through for landscape professionals of the four courtyards on Nov. 5.

The project will serve dual purposes for the university. In addition to courtyard rehabilitation, the university's nonprofit fund-raising foundation is using the restoration effort to drum up donations.

Sponsors will pay between $100,000 and $500,000 to put their names on the courtyards.

The money will be used to pay for some of the rehabilitation work, establish endowments for courtyard maintenance and fund other university programs. Foundation supporters also are scrambling to persuade local nurseries, landscape companies and other businesses to donate supplies and services for the restoration project.

Pat Richards, chairwoman of the Cal State Channel Islands Foundation board of directors, said the ultimate goal is to spruce up all of the courtyards as part of a larger effort to maintain the idyllic character of a campus nestled between rolling farm fields and the rugged Santa Monica Mountains.

"The whole setting is just so beautiful," Richards said. "I think we have something special there and we need to perpetuate it and take care of it."

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