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Second Presbyterian Church Playground & Courtyard




The ink sketch of the Second Presbyterian Church courtyard is by Richmond, Va. artist Eliza Askin from her calendar of the city's historic sites. The church is on the Virginia Landmarks Register and the National Registry of Historic Places. The church was built in 1845, designed by New York architect Minard Lafever. It was the first Gothic church (and the first gas-lit one) built in Richmond, Va. When Confederate General Stonewall Jackson was called to Richmond during the Civil War, he attended the church. On April 2, 1865, Richmond burned. An intentional igniting of a Confederate magazine to keep it from falling into Union hands blew out the church's stained glass windows.
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The initial goal of this small Richmond, Va. downtown project was to bring the Second Presbyterian Church’s independent childcare center’s outdated playground up to current standards. The childcare board received a grant to purchase a piece of age appropriate play equipment. The grant covered just the play structure expense, but not any site work, including demolition of the existing walled sandbox that consumed most of the space.

The effort to get the childcare center and the church board to work together was spearheaded by church member and retired landscape architect Richard Gibbons, FASLA. Mr. Gibbons contacted the landscape architecture program at Virginia Tech and 11 third-year landscape architecture students presented their conceptual ideas for the space.

 




Flora for the rain garden includes a fringe tree, cardinal flowers, sweet woodruff, Helleborus, Shasta daisies, painted ferns and fothergillia. The rain garden has a cobblestone edging; the bluestone paving was left intact. A roof downspout connects to the rain garden to detain and filter stormwater. Planting borders in the church sanctuary are green gem boxwood, Japanese painted fern, liriope, fall camellia and dwarf mondo grass. The top course of the wall is bullnose brick to match the parking deck.

 

Shepherd Land Planning (James Shepherd, ASLA) was asked to take the best ideas from the student’s creative work and compile them into a workable conceptual plan and construction documents to build the project.

A reoccurring theme of the students’ work was sustainability, particularly the use of rain gardens on the small site. The final plan had to mesh the needs of the childcare center and still retain the integrity of this historic gothic structure. The church was built in 1845 and it has been a place where historical Virginia heroes have worshipped.

After preliminary plans and documents were submitted and approved by the Richmond Commission on Architecture Review, other groups wanted to become involved. The Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay helped to coordinate a grant from the Virginia Department of Forestry to help fund the rain garden. The city of Richmond had recently instigated their new stormwater management program through the department of public utilities, and agreed to construct the rain garden to gain experience.

 




The rain garden was dedicated as the Ruby Harvey Memorial Rain Garden. "Friends of the Harvey Family" donated $1,200 for the garden, a memorial to Ruby Harvey, who attended the church childcare center. The Harvey family, Bryan, Kathryn, Stella and Ruby, were murdered in their Richmond home on January 1, 2006. The murderer is on death row. This plaque is a personal remembrance of Ruby.


“Actually, this small rain garden constructed on a cold Saturday in December became the first rain garden in downtown Richmond,” says James Shepherd, ASLA.

In February 2010, the project earned the “Clean River Award” from the city of Richmond as best small project for stormwater management.

Perhaps the most touching aspect of this project was that “Friends of the Harvey Family” donated $1,200 for a memorial garden for Ruby Harvey who attended the childcare center. The Harvey family, Bryan, Kathryn, Stella and Ruby were murdered in their Richmond home on January 1, 2006. The story shook Richmond and drew national attention. The murderer is on death row. The rain garden was dedicated as the Ruby Harvey Memorial Rain Garden.

 




A walled sandbox in the courtyard of the Second Presbyterian Church's independent childcare center was replaced with a play structure (Little Tikes) for 2-5 year olds. Other elements are a synthetic turf play surface, a wall-mounted chalkboard and handicap entrance (concrete ramp). The playground was dedicated April 18, 2010.

 

Sustainable Site Elements

  1. Most of the plants in the rain garden are native to central Virginia. Among these plants are the small trees, Chionanthus virginica (Fringe tree) and the shrubs, Forthergilla gardenii (Forthegilla).
  2. Increasing plant borders along the foundation of the church structure: green gem boxwood, Japanese painted fern, liriope, fall camellia and dwarf mondo grass.
  3. The round nose bricks for the new brick wall cap were recycled from some of the existing walls that were removed to create more space for the play area.
  4. An existing six-foot iron gate once used behind the church was relocated to close off the back alley portion of the courtyard/playground when not in use.
  5. Recycled chalk boards and metal railings were mounted on the wall of the parking deck for creative play.
  6. The playground equipment (Little Tikes) is made from recycled materials and in a production facility within 300 miles from the site.

The Team:

  • Richard Gibbons, FASLA
  • Designer: James Shepherd, ASLA, Shepherd Land Planning, Richmond, Va.
  • City of Richmond, Va.
  • Virginia Tech and 11 third-year landscape architecture students

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November 19, 2019, 11:12 pm PDT

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