The Welcome Center is the newest addition to the Children’s Harbor campus along Lake Martin near Alexander City. Designed by ArchitectureWorks, the new center introduces visitors to a place where children with serious illnesses and their families can enjoy summer camp-type activities at no cost.
Cindy Coyle, of ArchitectureWorks, says the main goal was to provide hospitality for the guests, and provide staff and board members space to carry out the work and mission of Children’s Harbor, which was founded in 1989 by Ben and Luanne Russell. The new Welcome Center also serves as the gateway to the camp and is the check-in point for camp leaders and headquarters for the nonprofit organization’s administrative offices.
“Mr. Russell’s vision was for the place to have the feel of a New England fishing camp,” Coyle explains. “Along those lines, the Welcome Center continues that vision on the exterior and interior that evoke a simple, nautical theme. The lobby space is intentionally open and airy, and the clerestory window provides a view of the widow’s walk above the spiral staircase. Walls of glass from the offices and expansive covered porches provide views toward beautiful Lake Martin.”
In addition to camping amenities, Children’s Harbor offers coaching, counseling, education, recreation, respite and other supportive services during and after hospitalization. Its other location is the Family Center at the Benjamin Russell Hospital for Children in Birmingham.
The Welcome Center is strategically positioned at the entrance to Children’s Harbor. For many years, the administrative services functioned out of a smaller building further into the property, Coyle adds. The new building greets guests immediately as they enter the grounds.
This new building is seen as guests come across the Kowaliga Bridge over Lake Martin. Its architectural style is of the New England Light House aesthetic that is carried throughout camp. The Welcome Center also builds on the former iconic Harbor House Building conceived by founder Ben Russell.
The new addition to the building has been sited to work around existing trees and topography. Coyle points out that the white-washed walls and open interiors with exposed structure give priority to the views of the clear waters at Lake Martin.