On a mild morning in May that is full of singing birds and blooming flowers, a student in the midst of musing over their final semester approaches Bessey Hall and takes a deep breath. Heading up the pathway to the back entrance, they stop to look at their surroundings, enchanted by the scenic changes. Instead of going inside, they step off the pathway into the round and spacious courtyard seating area beside the building. Their nose is filled with the scent of lavender as they choose a bench and pull out a copy of their commencement speech to pass the time. Behind them on the backrest is a braille plaque which reads, “RCPD, Maximizing Ability and Opportunity, Building Community, Growing Success." This space is the rebirth of opportunity. As they ponder graduation, and the start of a career, they reflect on all that MSU has become: home.
Ernst Bessey Hall is home to MSU academic classrooms, the Air Force ROTC, and campus resources such as the Undergraduate Research Office, the Writing Center, TRIO Student Support Services (SSS), the Bike Service Center, and the Resource Center for Persons with Disabilities (RCPD).
Recognizing that Bessey Hall is a frequent “home” for countless students, staff, and faculty, Michael Hudson, RCPD Director, has always wanted to create an exterior space where people can decompress and enjoy the beauty of campus. Michael and colleague John Pedraza, RCPD Ability Access Specialist, brainstormed together and realized that there was an opportunity to transform a small grassy area into something beautiful for the Spartan community to enjoy.
With their ideas in hand, Michael and John approached MSU Infrastructure Planning and Facilities (IPF) to explore this exciting possibility. IPF associates Stephen Troost, Campus Planner, and Yun Cao, Landscape Architect, joined forces with the RCPD and worked with the Landscape Stewardship Committee to accumulate funds for the project which was begun in October of 2019. Discussing accessibility on campus for individuals who are blind, Yun states: “In the beginning of last fall, Mike showed us, for instance, the walkway…and how landscape can help them to identify the walkway. I was really touched. I feel like – as a Landscape Architect – we need to do something to help.”
Interested in designing a commemorative bench as a symbol of partnership with the RCPD, Yun created 3-dimensional models to accessibly share design concepts with Team RCPD.
“Within the [MSU] design world, if you’re designing anything outside of the building, every day is a collaboration with the Resource Center for Persons with Disabilities,” said Stephen. “We will always bring them out on any of our projects to get their insight before finalizing design details. Every design that the landscape architects work on has collaboration with RCPD, and we couldn’t do it without it.”
It was important to create a space that was inclusive and conversational. By incorporating an open plan design, Yun created a welcoming environment for students making a home at MSU, campus visitors, and summer camp participants. This area is a welcoming and collaborative opportunity for those who study, work, and visit within Bessey Hall.
IPF incorporated scented plants, such as lavender and magnolia, so visitors can enjoy the beauty of the space through smell as well as sight. In addition to the plant materials that provide an interest for each season, the commemorative bench is inscribed with a print and Braille plaque, signifying communication with MSU's diverse population. These features, combined with wheelchair access elements, facilitate RCPD efforts creating community and advancing opportunity at MSU.
“This is a place for reflection, contemplation, study and community. It is a practical and accessible space for all in honor of ability and opportunity,” said Michael. “I am thankful our own John Pedraza saw the potential and that we had the partnerships needed to make it a reality.”
Stephen notes: “I just value the partnership. I know that the leadership group over there won’t back away. They will be there so we can make it better next time. Let’s learn from it and keep moving.”
MSU Landscape Services’ opened the space in September of 2020. The multi-seasonal visuals, smells, and textures combine with furnishings to help each Bessey Hall program grow community and engage MSU ideals.