To Teach and Delight
Perspectives On Line: The Magazine of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences

NC State University

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To Teach and Delight: The new McSwain Education Center is a functional work of art. --- By Terri Leith
The south terrace (left) and the elegant reception area (below) are among the McSwain Center's visually impressive elements.  (Terrace photo by Art Latham; reception area photo by Sheri D. Thomas)


ornate letter Speaking at the dedication of the Ruby C. McSwain Education Center at JC Raulston Arboretum, namesake donor Ruby McSwain recalled her childhood as the sixth of her parents’ children and marveled that they even had a sixth child. “Maybe there is a reason I was born,” she said. “To help this arboretum.”

And help she has. The impact of her numerous contributions to the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and to its nationally renowned arboretum at N.C. State University was eloquently defined with the Sept. 21 official opening of the facility that bears her name. She is foremost among the donors who have made the new teaching, office, conference and visitor center a reality.

Also present at the formal dedication events were the family of Willie York and his late wife, Lib York, benefactors of the York Auditorium in the McSwain Center. Various ribbon-cutting festivities included not only the center itself but also a large conference room to be the state headquarters of the Garden Club of North Carolina, which funded the room, as well as dedications of rooftop gardens and adjacent horticultural attractions at the facility.

“This certainly is a great day for the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and for N.C. State,” said Dean James L. Oblinger. “This center has the distinction of being the first completed facility incorporating a portion [$500,000] of the higher education bond. There has been a tremendous need for this building. It will enable us to better provide relevant and responsive programs in research, teaching and extension.”

N.C. State Chancellor Marye Anne Fox paid tribute to the groups and individuals who supported the center’s creation. “This has come about through a partnership between the university and the private sector and private citizens of North Carolina,” she said. “This ceremony marks the successful completion of a capital campaign for the arboretum. We owe a debt to each and every person who contributed to this building and the $4.2 million construction costs — from the brick walkway donors to Ms. Ruby.

“The convenience of looking just outside the classroom and watching plants grow really will enhance the offerings of classes here,” Fox said.

Dr. Robert Lyons, arboretum director, echoed that point.

“I can’t emphasize enough the value of the convenience of having that plant material right here to get your message across,” he said. “This is a place where educators can energize students of all ages.”

As educationally promising as the facilities are, a true delight for a visitor is in the details. In the entry foyer, there’s the elegant reception desk, made up of squares of 50 different species of wood from around the world. Look up and you’ll see a skylight in the shape of a glass pyramid, like a miniature of the I. M. Pei-designed glass pyramid entrance to the Louvre museum in Paris. The cool gray stone walls are adorned with leaf impressions, newly made fossils giving an enchanted woodland effect that continues along the hallway walls. The ceiling is a modern wood-slat design. The maple wood decor and the maple leaf logo throughout are nods to the Japanese maple, the signature tree of the arboretum.

The building’s largest area is the York Auditorium, which is divisible into three classroom spaces. Its outer wall is all-glass doors and windows, giving students a view of many plants featured in their curriculum. The auditorium’s clear acoustics are assured by aesthetically harmonizing panels descending from the ceiling. And the green-glazed concrete floor looks like glossy marble.

The vista from the windows of the York auditorium begins with the Michael Family Foundation South Terrace and gives way to a patio slope garden. And of course, closely adjacent are the grounds of the JC Raulston Arboretum itself.

Just down the hall from the auditorium are well-appointed office areas, conference room, library/reference room, volunteer work space and kitchen space. The north facing windows offer a view of a new greenhouse and gift shop area.

From the McSwain Center foyer, you step out upon the walkway of donor-engraved bricks. These lead to the Waterfall Cascade, a stone edifice that makes it seem you’re in Linville, not Raleigh. Look nearby for the Contemplation Garden, Vine Collections and Stair Cascade Gardens. These same stairs lead to the A.E. Finley Rooftop Terrace and Container Gardens and several other donor-named areas.

Some garden areas were still incomplete at dedication time, but Lyons said empty spaces would soon be thriving, thanks to the arboretum’s dedicated supporters. “Our volunteers are the lifeblood of the center and will continue to be its pulse as plant acquisitions come in,” he said.

As for the fully realized McSwain Center itself, Lyons said, “This has been the dream of so many for so long, and at last it’s complete.”


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