Arboretum plans to renovate and expand Dorotha Smith Oatts Visitor Center


Carter Skaggs

Workers walk in front of the Dortha Smith Oatts Visitor Center on Thursday, May 4, 2023, at The Arboretum, State Botanical Garden of Kentucky in Lexington, Kentucky. Photo by Carter Skaggs | Staff

Megan Leibold, Reporter

The Arboretum State Botanical Garden of Kentucky plans to renovate and expand the facility’s Dorotha Smith Oatts Visitor Center starting in late 2024.

Designs have been completed and fundraising is in progress to renovate the Visitor Center. 

Molly Davis, the Arboretum director, said the goal is to reach at least $3.5 million by the end of 2023. Approximately $2.1 million has been raised for the project since the start of 2023.

“The Visitor Center will be renovated and expanded to keep up with the growth of education programs, children’s activities, community meetings, and many other events the center offers,” Davis said. 

According to Davis, the Arboretum Visitor Center Fund was established to permit renovations and expansion of the Dorotha Smith Oatts Visitor Center at the Arboretum. 

Don Witt, assistant vice president for philanthropy at UK, discussed the renovation’s importance to the Arboretum and the community.

“This is a wonderful project that represents the collaborative spirit between the Arboretum, the University of Kentucky, the College of Agriculture, Food and Environment, the LFUCG (Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government), and the community of Lexington,” Witt said.

The Visitor Center provides a place to greet and inform Arboretum visitors. The facility gives visitors the opportunity to learn, walk or relax in an outdoor setting. 

According to a pamphlet provided by the Arboretum, the late Dorotha Smith Oatts, whom the Visitor Center is named after, began the Arboretum Center Fund with a gift of $500,000. This gift allowed for the development of the initial design plans with Lord Aeck Sargent (LAS), an architecture and design firm in Lexington.

Witt said the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government has since added $500,000 to the fund.

“Expanding the existing space aims to help more people discover nature, learn earth sciences, develop an understanding of horticulture and inspire an interest in ecology,” Davis said.

An image of the future Dorotha Smith Oatts Visitor Center and a space to donate to the Visitor Center’s fund can be found at UK’s “Kentucky Can” donation website