“Have you seen the secret garden yet?”

First-year botany student Jess Lyons had not yet seen the fabled garden, but she was intrigued. She walked to Pearson Hall, and, with the unfamiliarity of a first-year student in their first week of classes, tried to find her way to the basement. 

She walked through the newly narrow and winding hallways, stopping each time she came upon a staircase only to discover it was blocked off just before reaching the basement. Finally, she found the one staircase that remained open. 

But, instead of finding the garden she had imagined, Jess came upon a padlocked door with a sign: Construction zone. Do not enter.

The secret garden was gone. 

$32.6 million renovations to Pearson Hall have begun, and the garden has been excavated to make way for an atrium. The teaching and research labs will be modernized, along with improvements to offices and common areas, as well as updated circulation, mechanical, electric and fire systems, according to the Board of Trustees documents from Feb. 2017. 

In the meantime, temporary labs reside in Hughes Hall while the renovations take place. 

Susan Hoffman, associate professor of biology, had been caring for the garden up until a few years ago, when she was notified it would be removed in the planned renovations. 

“After that, it basically fell into disrepair,” Hoffman said. “Very few students would hang out there anyway.”

The departments housed in Pearson agreed a common space for students, one that was not a well-kept secret, was needed in the renovations. 

“Whenever I walk through Pearson Hall, I’m always amazed at the number of students gathered in the narrow corridors waiting on class change,” Cody Powell, associate vice president of facilities planning and operations, said.  “When you look at the other buildings we have renovated, we see a lot of open gathering space where students and faculty are encouraged to spend time together and collaborate.”

But in the past, the garden in Pearson was a place for students and faculty to come together and experiment with warm-weather plants. 

“There was bamboo, magnolia and a bunch of other plants there,” Hoffman said. “Once I became in charge of its care, I added some flowering plants.” 

While the garden is gone, though, mementos from it remain. The stone benches were removed and placed on campus; one is near MacMillan Hall. 

“The plants were dug up and given to new homes as well,” Hoffman said. “So at least parts of it are still around.”

While first-year students like Jess will never see the garden in its prime, they will witness the completed Phase I renovations to Pearson by August 2019.