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Solomon Awards 2018 – Central Wesleyan Church, “Children’s Playland” (Church Design, Youth and Children’s Spaces)

The primary design goal for the Playland at Central Wesleyan Church (CWC) in Holland, Michigan, is to “amplify hope and life in the community by creating a place where families can enjoy unhurried time with one another.” CWC was founded in 1978 as a congregation of 300 with a small but enthusiastic children’s program. Over the years, the church has grown into a robust community resource averaging more than 3,000 people in the main worship center, and 375 children under the age of 12 regularly attending children’s programs each Sunday. As expected, their ministry programs have developed, grown, and reorganized to best serve the needs of the congregation and community over the years.

As part of a strategic masterplan in 2015, CWC evaluated outreach opportunities and recognized the lack of any indoor playground options within their community. With this opportunity in mind, the masterplan revitalized a two-story former lobby adjacent to the children’s program area. Though centrally located with good access to lower level parking and the upper level church coffee shop, the space was underutilized. Installing the Playland in this zone brought vitality to the area and clearly connected levels of program space.

The new design concept enhanced the existing interior space in three primary ways. First, the opening between the floors was expanded and physical barriers were removed in order to visually connect the space. Next, open stairways were created to support intuitive access from the lower level parking and entry to the main level fellowship zones and Playland entry. Lastly, the play structure’s colorful platforms, activity zones and slides connect multiple floors and provide opportunities for fun.

The primary structure is designed for children two-years-old, up to and including 11-year-olds. “Explorers” can safely climb as high as 26 feet above the yellow tube slide. The adventurous are rewarded with prospect views of the entire area. A zone for youngsters ages six months to two years is integrated in the larger structure and allows the little ones to feel included while parents can keep an eye on all family members.

Expansive transparency and whimsical round windows provide visual access to play areas while providing security and reducing sound transmission to adjacent program spaces. Visitors at the café can watch children play while enjoying coffee and a snack in lounge seating or at high top tables. This type of passive interaction helps to reinforce the multi-generational outreach approach to community the church works to embrace.

The church has recorded a staggering 68,323 children who have enjoyed the Playland in the first 18 months of operation. Sunday school records show 62 new children have started regularly attending Sunday morning services after visiting the Playland for the first time. In addition, 55 new families have connected and attended services at CWC as a direct result of the Playland.

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