South Charlotte

South County Regional Library’s new patio open to creativity, learning

20-month-old Nash Britton, son of Kyle and Andrea Britton, draws on the chalkboard on the patio at the South County Regional Library.
20-month-old Nash Britton, son of Kyle and Andrea Britton, draws on the chalkboard on the patio at the South County Regional Library.

The patio outside the children’s wing of the Charlotte Meckelnburg South County Regional Library has been transformed into an outdoor makerspace. That’s the current term for an area that offers an array of opportunities for creativity and interactive learning.

The patio also a butterfly and vegetable haven.

And it’s all thanks to the imagination of two librarians and a $36,000 grant from Bissell.

For the past three years, the Ballantyne-based commercial real estate firm has given a community gift during the Christmas holidays to honor the tenants in Ballantyne Corporate Park and serve the surrounding community.

Last year they decided the gift would benefit the South County Regional library, and they asked library staff for four proposals.

Three of the grant applications were for technology-related projects. The fourth, the patio project, was the brainchild of senior library assistant Sandy Nicholls, an avid gardener. South County children’s manager Tree Martus wrote the grant proposal based on Nichols outdoor makerspace vision.

The two worked together, refining the proposal several times, in hopes that the overgrown, under-used outdoor space would become a welcoming learning area that could be enjoyed by children and adults.

Their proposal was chosen in December, and work started on the project in February.

Construction is now complete on the patio that offers raised vegetable beds on one side, a butterfly garden on the other, and a gazebo in the middle with benches that can double as seats or a working area.

Two chalkboards are mounted on the block retaining wall so kids can express their creativity with chalk, and several rolling planting carts sit under the overhang to be used for planting and experimentation during the many classes that will be held there.

Nicholls is planning to replace the plastic plant signs with more permanent ones, so children will learn the names of the native plants that attract bees and butterflies.

“We will have classes to identify the plants, learn their proper names, the parts of a plant, the importance of their roots, and so much more,” Nicholls said.

The vegetables beds on the other end are still waiting for the weather to turn permanently warm, then library patrons – young and old – will plant and tend the gardens and, hopefully, harvest produce.

The library’s contracted maintenance company will be responsible for some of the upkeep, while library staff and patrons will maintain plants and organize programs and classes.

The patio will see it’s first official function on April 14 as part of the N.C. Science Festival.

“We will be part of the N.C. Science Festival with a ‘STEM in the Garden’ class where we will talk about composting, and the children will plant in containers to take home. A representative from Hall Farms will talk about gardening on a small scale,” Martus said.

Hall Farms is a family-run operation that has existed in the Ballantyne area for generations.

Christina Thigpen, Bissell vice president of marketing and communications, said the project was particularly meaningful to chairman Smokey Bissell.

“Mr. Bissell is an avid gardener and is very passionate about investing in our youth,” Thigpen said. “This project serves both those passions.”

Martus said the completed patio is a valuable addition to the library.

“The Bissell grant has been a boon not only for the library, but also for the South Charlotte community,” Martus said. “It’s given us a chance to expand who we are and what we do for children and their parents. It’s given us a chance to bring nature, and books, to life for them.”

Melinda Johnston is a freelance writer:

Want to go?

The library is at the intersection of N.C. 51 and Rea Road, and the patio is visible from Rea Road. The patio is open to patrons during library hours.