Columbus Signature Academy – Lincoln Campus will celebrate its 50th anniversary next week, while also kicking off a playground project paying tribute to the school’s late architect.

The Sept. 21 anniversary celebration at CSA Lincoln, 750 Fifth St., will feature student-led tours from noon to 1 p.m. followed by an hour-long ceremony, principal Brett Findley said.

Jennifer McCormick, Indiana superintendent of public instruction, will speak during the event, which will include the burial of a time capsule at the base of the school’s flagpole, Findley said.

The school, completed in 1967 by architect Gunnar Birkerts, was originally known as Lincoln Elementary School.

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“This school has been admired for its stunning architecture for decades,” Findley said. “We’re proud of the success of our students and are looking forward to welcoming guests who not only admire the design of our building, but the processes we have in place for student achievement.”

The American Institute of Architects gave the Lincoln school design, reflecting the Modernistic style, an Honor Award in 1970, one of five buildings in Columbus recognized by the organization.

The school building is located near other architecturally significant buildings such as St. Peter’s Lutheran Church on the city’s architectural tour, said Jim Roberts, superintendent of the Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp.

“You’re walking past other architectural wonders,” Roberts said. “Lincoln Elementary is definitely one of the architectural jewels of downtown Columbus. From its great use of natural light to the one-of-a-kind multi-purpose area built in the center of the building, it has been a wonderful place for our students to embrace the history of our city’s well-known architecture.”

The work by Birkerts at CSA Lincoln is important to recognize, said Richard McCoy, director of Landmark Columbus, an organization that works to honor and preserve the city’s design heritage.

“One of the things that building proves is that design matters and it also proves the value of good design,” McCoy said. “It’s like so many other designs in Columbus in that it fits into the landscape so well and it looks so comfortable there.”

Lincoln also found notoriety as the first school building in the United States to provide handicapped access to both levels of the building via ramps, elevators and extra-wide doors, according to the Columbus Area Visitors Center.

Playground a nod to Birkerts

A groundbreaking ceremony will also be held for a playground makeover known as the Linden Project, modeled off an original concept for a playground in 1966 that never materialized. The project’s name was picked as a tribute to Birkerts, who had called for Linden trees in the design, Findley said. Birkerts died last month at age 92.

The upgraded playground is meant to honor the school’s past while also looking ahead to the future, Findley said.

A total of $400,000 has been raised toward the playground, which includes financial support from BCSC, a $50,000 grant from Heritage Fund – the Community Foundation of Bartholomew County and $90,000 from the Carl Marshall & Mildred Almen Reeves Foundation.

Plans for the project were announced in February by members of the school’s parent-teacher organization, which has been contacting private donors to secure funding. The playground is expected to be completed by next summer.

Among the features include playground equipment, outdoor classrooms, sculptural benches, green space and the Joe Brown Globe, a wooden climbing structure modeled like a globe to match Columbus’ unique architecture, PTO president Tracy Kiser said. A local artist will also create seating options for the outdoor classroom space that will be made available, Kiser said.

Kiser expressed confidence that organizers would be able to reach the overall fundraising goal, with in-kind donations also accepted, she said.

“The $500,000 goal is very attainable,” she said. “That kind of thing doesn’t happen without a whole lot of people coming together.”

Findley also said he’s thankful for the community support toward the playground.

The outdoor classrooms will be a popular feature, allowing CSA Lincoln to expand learning for students while enjoying the space that is available, Findley said.

“It provides a different opportunity for our kids,” Findley said.

Outside school hours, the playground will be available to the community as a whole, Kiser said.

“It’s in their backyard and accessible,” Kiser said.

If you go

What: 50th anniversary of Columbus Signature Academy — Lincoln Campus building, including an initiative to raise funds for a new playground that pays tribute to Gunnar Birkerts, the school’s architect

When: Sept. 21 with student-led tours from noon to 1 p.m. and then an hour-long celebration at 1 p.m.

Where: 750 Fifth St.

How to help

To donate funds for the Linden Project, a playground that pays tribute to the school’s architect, individuals can mail a check to the Bartholomew Consolidated School Foundation, 1200 Central Ave., Columbus, IN 47201 with the memo line reading “Linden Project.”

Organizers of the anniversary celebration will also have information available during the Sept. 21 event.

Architectural tours

The Columbus Area Visitors Center will conduct one-hour architectural tours of Columbus Signature Academy — Lincoln Campus, 750 Fifth St., on Sept. 16-17, with $15 tickets available for purchase on the visitors center website, columbus.in.us

Proceeds from the architectural tour will go toward the Linden Project playground renovation.

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Matt Kent is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at 812-379-5712 or mkent@therepublic.com