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National Garden to Open in ’06

Architect of the Capitol Alan Hantman told Congressional lawmakers Thursday that the long-planned National Garden is on schedule to finally open to the public in summer 2006.

Testifying before the Joint Committee on the Library, Hantman said that construction of the project, which began in April 2004, is now “48 percent” complete.

The Architect added that much of that finished work is below ground, or structural work to support the garden itself.

When completed, the 3-acre garden, situated adjacent to the Botanic Garden on the Capitol’s West Front between Maryland and Independence avenues Southwest, will resemble “a wonderful oasis,” Hantman said.

Initiated by the 100th Congress in 1988 as a memorial to the institution’s bicentennial, the garden has faced repeated setbacks, in part because of fundraising difficulties.

Unlike other construction projects managed by the Architect’s office, the garden receives no taxpayer dollars and is instead financed entirely through private donations.

When the AOC signed a $9.2 million contract with Maryland-based Walsh Construction in 2004, funding shortfalls required officials to shelve portions of the garden’s original design, including a multimillion-dollar environmental learning center.

The scaled-back plans called instead for a “basic garden,” officials said in 2004, including only rose, butterfly and landscape gardens, a lawn terrace and fencing.

But in recent months, Hantman testified, the nonprofit National Fund for the United States Botanic Garden has successfully raised $865,000 to revive Phase Two of the project, which centers on a Regional Garden at the site.

According to the National Garden’s Web site, the Regional Garden includes “flora and fauna native to the Mid-Atlantic area” and will “highlight the importance of water as a nature resource.”

The phase also includes an amphitheater, which may be used to hold classes, lectures or other events.

“The Regional Garden is, in fact, where the outdoor classroom will really come to life,” the Web site states. “With an adventure trail and a boardwalk, we expect this garden to be a flurry of activity, especially with children.”

In addition, Hantman said, he is hopeful that “within a few months” fundraising will be complete for the project’s Phase Three, a First Ladies Water Garden estimated to cost $1.6 million.

“The Water Garden will be lined with multi-hued granite pavers in a mosaic reminiscent of early colonial gardens and traditional American quilting patterns,” the Web site states. “Not only will it be a place for repose and reflection, but for inspiration: perfect since so many of our First Ladies have inspired all of us.”

Construction of the water garden could add approximately four months to the overall construction schedule, Hantman added.

Hantman did not comment on the garden’s final and most costly phase: the construction of the Senator John Heinz Environmental Learning Center.

The garden’s Web site does not list an expected completion date for the $7.6 million center, but states the final phase “may be a bit down the road.”

CORRECTION:The National Fund for the United States Botanic Garden raised $665,000 to finance a new phase of the National Garden project. The figure was incorrectly reported in Monday’s article “National Garden to Open in ’06”).

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