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New Washburn Center Brings Nature To Mpls. Children

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) - From driving past Washburn Center for Children on Nicollet Avenue, it's hard to believe that the center is big enough for 91 therapists to work with 2,700 children and their families.

And according to executive director Steve Lepinski - it really isn't. Some of the offices are actually across the street.

"I think we do really good work with kids now, but it's clearly in spite of our building," Lepinski said.

But that will soon change. Washburn is building a new $21 million building just north of downtown Minneapolis.

The idea behind the new building is to both double the space for therapy, and aid the therapy.

"Design a building where the facility itself can be therapeutic, and support the therapeutic work that we do," he said.

They'll do that by connecting kids, and the building, with nature.

Mohammed Lawal of LSE Architects heads up the design team hired by Washburn.

'The building is soft. It's sitting in a soft environment," Lawal said.

The design is inspired by Richard Louv, the award-winning author of "Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder".

"So everything that we've done here has been about how do you enhance the relationship between the child and the therapist, and then the child and nature," Lawal said.

He'll take four urban lots and add the nature of the Northwoods, creating a soft, sweeping, v-shaped building. The windows in every room, as well as a terraced design, will bring in even more light.

"Because we've got a narrow footprint of the building here, it's going to limit the amount of shading on-site itself," Lawal said. "All the therapy offices overlook a green roof on the north side. And everything – the entire building - is focused on creating a sheltered playground space on north side."

Cramped therapy offices will be a thing of the past, as will the tiny blacktop playground. Green and open spaces, with wooded walking paths, will serve a therapeutic purpose all their own.

"It's about a minute walk around the site, it's about a three-minute walk around the block, and it's about a ten-minute walk around Bassett Creek all the way back and around,"

Some of the nature will actually be man-made, including an innovative slide that's built into a mound on the ground.

But this will mostly be about light, trees, and a sense of peace - bringing the healing power of nature to the kids and to the city.

"Washburn committed to a site in the city to bring nature to the city, where the kids are," Lawal said.

Washburn hopes to break ground on the new center in the summer of 2013, and open it sometime in 2014.

Former WCCO anchor Don Shelby is leading Washburn Center's fund-raising drive.

Click here for more information, and to learn how you can help.

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