By K.D. Norris
The multi-phased building expansion plans of the Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park announced last week will include an expansion the institution’s learning center, already a favorite of several Wyoming and Kentwood community organizations including Kentwood Public Schools A.R.C.H. after school program.
The expansion plans include a new 60,000 square foot welcome center, a new transportation center, expansion and upgrades to the concert amphitheater, a new sculpture garden entry plaza and a “reimagined” scenic indoor corridor, and expanded parking and urban garden areas. Overall, project construction is scheduled to begin this fall and continue for approximately four years.
After the new welcome center, however, and most important expansion may be the 20,000 square foot Covenant Learning Center, which will be topped by the new Padnos Families Rooftop Sculpture Garden.
“Today we have two approximately 1,100 square foot classrooms devoted to education,” Meijer Gardens President and CEO David Hooker said when asked by WKTV about the Covenant Learning Center. “Since 1999, our educational programming has grown 305 percent. While our education programming has grown … our space dedicated to education has remained the same. The new Covenant Learning Center will have four approximately 1,200 square foot classrooms, two 1,600 square foot classrooms and one 2,200 square foot Interactive Education Area. The opportunity for additional educational programming is nearly unlimited.”
Wyoming and Kentwood programs at the gardens
Kentwood’s A.R.C.H. after school program is just one of the many programs currently using the Garden’s educational programing.
“The after-school programs from both Kentwood (A.R.C.H.) and Wyoming (T.E.A.M. 21), in particular, have made frequent visits to Meijer Gardens in the past,” said Jessica Hart, Meijer Gardens indoor education manager. “We’re delighted that these groups have been able to enjoy our seasonal exhibitions, Sculpture Park, and Children’s Garden. I expect that the new Covenant Learning Center will allow us additional opportunities to offer educational programs school groups and after-school groups alike in the future.”
A.R.C.H. is a collaboration between Kentwood Public Schools and the Kentwood Parks and Recreation Department. Program activities focus on academics, health, wellness, and recreation/leisure education. These activities will be offered to children, family, and community members throughout the year.
But the Kentwood program is just one of many groups availing themselves of local cultural educational opportunities. And that is just the way Meijer Garden’s wants it.
Following recent educational additions to other Grand Rapids area institutions, including The Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum, Meijer Garden’s Covenant Learning Center “will engage learners in new ways and reinforce our commitment as the go-to place for cultural education,” according to supplied information.
Part of Meijer Garden’s mission
“Since our beginning, education has been a hallmark of the Meijer Gardens mission — reaching more than 89,000 guests last year alone. In fact, the action word in our mission statement is ‘promote.’ Education is the primary method by which we put life into the word ‘promote.’ The dramatic growth of participation in our educational programming not only underscores the quality and diversity of our classes, camps and events, but also demonstrates a need for more classroom space.”
A key aspect of the new classrooms will be that they will provide outdoor learning areas, with five of the six having direct access from within the classroom. The outdoor learning area will be located east of the building and will include seating areas for students, teaching areas for instructors, and partial shade/cover from the elements.
The expansion plans are the result of a nearly complete $115 million capital campaign titled “Welcoming the World: Honoring a Legacy of Love”. The campaign currently has raised about $102 million of its goal, according to supplied information.
“If we are successful in our ‘Welcoming the World: Honoring a Legacy of Love’ fundraising efforts, we will begin construction in September of this year,” Hooker said. “We do not have a precise date at this time for the completion of the Covenant Learning Center or the Padnos Families Rooftop Sculpture Garden.”
The New York firm Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects Partners has been chosen “to re-envision and expand” the Meijer Gardens facilities, according to supplied information. The firm is known for their design of the iconic Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia and, most recently, chosen to design the Barack Obama Presidential Center in Chicago.
For more information about Meijer Gardens visit meijergardens.org. For more information about the “Welcoming the World: Honoring a Legacy of Love” fundraising efforts visit meijergardens.org/legacyoflove .