When a dilapidated building next-door was torn down, members of the Church of the Messiah United Methodist constructed a colorful outdoor learning space for the church’s preschool.
Charity Monroe, director the Ourday Preschool at Messiah, had a vision of a space that was different from a park or a playground yet offered a very natural space adjacent to the church.
“It’s a new kind of space. I think it’s a neat and progressive space for Uptown Westerville,” she said. “The community feedback has been so positive. I’ve heard several adults say they wished they could go to preschool there.”
The vision of this new area includes uses for all groups of the church, including Sunday school, vacation bible school and adult meetings. Yet, the area is furthermore intended for all who visit the church and the Uptown area.
This winter, once church members tore down the old building on the land, they began to brainstorm ideas on what to do with the space.
It wasn’t quite big enough for a parking lot, Monroe recalled, and it was very close to Westerville Cleaners.
She originally got the idea for the outdoor classroom from a magazine article about natural outdoor play areas.
With collaboration from Ron Miller, a landscape designer and church member, they got to work over the summer on transforming the space.
“A lot of churches have playgrounds and outdoor spaces and so it was a really exciting opportunity to do something different,” said Miller.
He chose to put in a wide variety of grasses in the space, in order to educate kids about all the different species. Other plant used “were especially selected because they attract birds, butterflies and bees,” Miller said.
The space also includes a unique circular sandbox, arched entrance, dry creek bed and a small bridge.
The project held a special place in Miller’s heart, he said, because both of his sons — now 30 and 32 — attended Ourday preschool.
Additionally, three Boy Scouts from the church-sponsored Troop 560 completed their Eagle Scout projects by helping build the outdoor classroom.
“They were looking for an Eagle Scout project and this just seemed like the perfect fit,” Monroe said. “They really stepped up and created something beautiful.”
With the help of local business’ donations, the boys were able to build six planter boxes, six picnic tables and six log benches.
The Cellar Lumber Company at 137 E. College Ave. contributed about $1,000 worth of the cedar lumber for the planter boxes and Almendinger Sawmill at 5501 Caswell Road in Johnstown, helped with the log benches.
“It was really rewarding to help these outstanding young men,” Miller said. “Each project was tricky but they did a perfect job.”
The next-door business, Westerville Cleaners at 40 W Main St., provided the water source to keep the outdoor classroom green throughout the installation and ongoing seasons.
“Thank you to the Church of Messiah leaders who embraced the idea from the first presentation last winter,” said Monroe.
“The outdoor classroom is now ready to welcome us all to a lovely addition to Church of Messiah. Please visit and enjoy the outdoor space.”
At the preschool fall orientation in late August, Monroe said that almost all of the 400 parents complimented the new space.
The Church of the Messiah will have an open house to celebrate the space from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 13.
For the future, Monroe said she hopes to add bird feeders, butterfly houses, and other things to help enhance the natural habitat.