April 20, 2005 - The next step in making Oro Valley's town hall complex a community-friendly campus will be unveiled at the town's Earth Day celebration on April 23.

Plans for Oro Valley's Community Display Garden have been quietly in the works for about a year, but Water Conservation Specialist Kevin McCaleb, who has been leading the project, is ready to make the plans public and ask for the residents' support.

McCaleb said the garden will complete a plan to get people to see town hall as a place to gather and socialize, not just pay bills and conduct business.

He said it is the last piece of a multipart strategy to create a central, social area in the town, a plan Public Information Officer Bob Kovitz has also helped to lead, and something he said he hopes has been successful.

The endeavor includes hosting an outdoor farmers market each Saturday, landscaping the property and creating a social atmosphere at the library through programs and meetings.

"We want to utilize the space here to make it comfortable, and friendly and family-oriented," Kovitz said.

While the town does have the Naranja Town Site project in its future, Kovitz said that until the town is able to fund that project, something is needed, and he sees that something as the town hall complex and library.

He said too often people think of town hall as a place to go when they have a complaint to be heard by the council or need to pay a traffic ticket. But what the town wants to create is a community space that encourages gathering and provides a reason to get together for positive face-to-face interaction with friends and neighbors.

The community garden will be another venue for such socializing.

"It's pleasant now, in its natural state," Kovitz said of the lot between the library and the town's development services building. "But it will be even more pleasant with a garden there."

Since June 2004, after getting the OK from the council, McCaleb has been working with a design consultant, Mark Flemming of Sonoran Sage Landscape Consultants, to plan the garden.

Now that the blueprint has been worked out, McCaleb plans to unveil it to the public at the Earth Day celebration. Computer renderings of different parts of the garden will be on display, as well as information about the overall plans. McCaleb also will begin a campaign at the event to raise money to make the garden a reality.

The garden will be both a gathering spot and a place to learn about desert plants and water conservation.

The entire lot, just shy of an acre, will be watered using a rain water harvesting system, which will catch about 134,000 gallons of water. All of the pumps that will get the water from the cisterns, where the water is stored, to the plants will be solar powered.

Like in a botanical garden, the plants will be identified for those enjoying the garden, but each plant also will have corresponding information that will tell the viewer how much water the plant uses in a week, and how it should be cared for.

For one end of the garden, two viewing platforms are planned, for taking in the majestic Santa Catalina Mountains. Each platform will be covered with a roof, one flat and one with a slight pitch. Water will be collected separately from those two areas, to show residents how they can use rain water at their own homes. Nearby, another garden will use only the reclaimed water from a washing machine.

These are just some of the features McCaleb has planned to help educate the public on water use and conservation.

In addition to the displays, there will be movable and stationery seating and open patio areas to encourage all types of public uses, from families bringing books from the library next door for an afternoon of cozy reading to groups holding evening meetings under the setting sun.

There is no figure worked out yet on what the garden will cost to build, McCaleb said, however, he said the town does not plan to build the garden using town funds, and it is looking for the public to get behind the project.

"If the money doesn't come, this won't get done," he said. "This is not something the town will pay for."

Kovitz agreed.

"The challenge will be raising funds," he said. "We are forging new ground here. We hope the community will want to support it."

McCaleb hopes the biggest portion of funding for the garden will come from donations. There are plans underway to sell pavers that will line the main entrance corridor, engraved with the names of benefactors. There also are plans to sell park benches that can be engraved with names or messages from the people who purchase them.

In-kind donations from the town, in the form of staff time and expertise, also will help the project along, and, if needed, McCaleb said the town can apply for grants to complete the funding. Most grants he has looked at require the town to prove it can pay for at least 50 percent of the project before applying for the financial help, however.

"It would be sweet if we could do this as a community," he said. "This is the town's garden. It will be for their enjoyment."

His hope is to form a joint commission, once the garden is constructed, that will consist of town staff and residents, to help administer the project in the future. He said then the public will have true ownership of the garden, but the town can remain involved because so many town staff have been important in making it happen.

The garden has become McCaleb's passion over the past year, and he said he is excited to launch the fund-raising campaign. He has been working for the past two years on several water conservation projects, including selling rain sensors to the public that detect rainfall and shut down irrigation systems when enough has fallen to water home gardens. He also runs an audit program, going into homes to see how residents are using water, and if they can make simple changes to conserve.

Kovitz said he commends McCaleb for his passion for water conservation and said he is glad he has found a new way, through the community garden, to share that passion with the community.

The garden unveiling will be just one part of a larger Earth Day celebration to take place at the library this year.

The Oro Valley Public Library, 1305 W. Naranja Drive, has held Earth Day programs in the past, but Cat Strong, a library representative, said there was a wish to expand those programs this year and create a community celebration that could become an annual tradition.

"We wanted to partner with other departments in the town to really celebrate Earth Day. We really anticipate it being a fun event," she said. "We hope each year to make it bigger and better."

Programs are scheduled every hour from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. April 16, to be held on the covered patio in front of the library and in the adjacent outdoor lot. Planned programs include a session to inform participants about native desert trees that will do well in Oro Valley yards and also to teach ways to keep dust down when it starts to get dry this summer. Tom McDaniels will teach people how to coexist with desert animals, and local children's book author Jennifer Ward will read her latest work about the creatures found in the desert during the day and at night. Representatives of various local parks and recreation departments also are scheduled to have informational booths, as well as Oro Valley's water department, the Friends of the Oro Valley Public Library and the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Northwest Tucson.

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