Our mission is to not just be a leader in the future of design but to also be a leader in making a difference in our communities. Part of the way we do that is by using our skills to support local nonprofits, such as the Brethren & Mennonite Heritage Center. One of the first projects we assisted on was the structural care and climate control of the Burkholder Myers House. This historic home lacked the climate control needed to withstand the varying temperatures and humidity the environment provided, and with quick action and the expertise of our team, we were able to provide a plan to preserve the structure with minimal damage.
As our involvement grew deeper with the center as sponsors of the Sing Me High Festival and Charles’ daughters frequently volunteering there, we learned of the value of this place in Harrisonburg. We were asked to volunteer our time to help develop a master plan for the long-term sustainability of the center and jumped at the opportunity. This planning phase for any sized organization is crucial to put a plan in place for future generations. While the main focus of the center is to look back at the history of Brethren and Mennonite, it is also looking to preserve heritage in the future. The center has resources that need a home – Hildebrand Church and heavy timber. It owns wagons with no wagon shed. The visitor’s center is not adequate for the needs long-term. So with our ability to visualize what can be in a place that is still growing, we set to work. Joining a committee with deep knowledge of the history of this center and also of Brethren and Mennonite stories we set forth to plan the right solutions while navigating zoning and code compliance. The process took many meetings and we learned a lot about the flow of tours, history, and needs. From those discussions, we were able to draft a master plan for the future.
This long-range plan will guide decisions for future additions to campus that will assist in providing more educational opportunities such as a Poultry House, Wagon Shed, and Carpentry shop. These resources not only allow volunteers to share information with visiting patrons but also host hands-on activities for local field trips. There are plans for a bank-barn, visitor’s center, moving Hildebrand Church, and expanding the 20th-century display along with functional solutions like parking, trees, and a new visitor’s center. The planning document allows for discussions about priority, budget, and schedules for even the most basic decisions – like when to hire a civil engineer to design storm-water solutions and verify compliance with local regulations.
Our work at the center not only benefits our communities but also gives us insight into the history of this place and the heritage that shapes it. As we began designing a simple (brooder) poultry house we learned a lot about the process from 100 years ago to not only care for the poultry but how buildings took shape in a practical and functional way. This new structure expands the offerings of the heritage center and allowed us to learn. A special thanks to JZ Engineering for helping us design a historically accurate 100-year-old structure.
Brethren and Mennonite Heritage Center has and continues to be a crucial part of our communities as a resource for education and volunteer opportunities. As we strive to build a better community through design, we are proud to partner with such a beautiful and meaningful organization.