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Outdoor learning center planned at West Virginia Independence Hall in Wheeling

WHEELING — As crews began routine excavation work on a small lot next to the Soldiers and Sailors monument outside West Virginia Independence Hall in downtown Wheeling earlier this week, as plans are in the works to eventually integrate an outdoor children’s learning center on the site.

Independence Hall Site Manager Debbie Jones said while they are currently going through the preliminary phase of excavating old bricks and debris from an area where the former Kirk’s art supply store once stood, the West Virginia Division of Culture and History does have plans to eventually turn that area of the facility’s lot into an outdoor learning center.

Jones said crews with J&R Excavating of Limestone began removing old foundation bricks and debris this week from where the art supply store once stood and they plan to level that section of the lot before sodding it with grass.

She said plans are in the works to extend the large black rod iron fence surrounding Independence Hall around that section of the facility as well, before eventually creating some sort of “rustic” outdoor classroom/learning space for children and students who visit the historic site.

Jones said the plans include creating a small amphitheater style of area that would include a small stage with outdoor seating where they would also be able to set up for arts and crafts kind of events on site.

She said hopefully the seating will be created from large square stones similar to what a small cannon is currently situated on top of outside the facility.

Jones noted they are in the very early planning stages of creating the children’s center and they continue to entertain different ideas for a final design.

“I have not seen any final plans on what it would look like or anything like that … but it will be an outdoor learning center for the children of some type,” she commented. She is hopeful they can begin working on the actual center within the next year or two. She said while a construction schedule is still not in place, she is hopeful they can begin constructing it within the next year or two.

“It would be just a nice place we can offer kids coming in and we could put some programs and things together,” Jones said.

She said it will offer an additional learning area for students who are visiting Independence Hall for events like the West Virginia History Bowl or Constitution Day. She said visiting students might also be able use it as a nice spot to eat their lunch.

Jones said the idea of putting in an outdoor classroom area is something they have wanted to do for many years because they have been limited on space at the downtown facility.

“It may not be usable all year-round, but we will make the most of it — at least eight months out of the year. I’m excited about it,” Jones added.

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