Officials with See Rock City, Elemi Architects and Children’s Hospital at Erlanger. (Photo: Staff)

Rock City will turn 85 Sunday, and officials announced today that they are making a significant investment in the community to help mark the occasion.

During a news conference this morning, See Rock City Inc. and Rock City Gardens announced a three-year, $300,000 investment to Children’s Hospital at Erlanger.

Specifically, the funding will help create the Secret Garden, an interactive treehouse-themed play area for patients and families at the facility.

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“This is our single-largest investment,” See Rock City President Susan Harris said. “One of the things that is so very integral to our history has been our investment in the community. We’re very excited.”

The Secret Garden will be designed by Chattanooga-based Elemi Architects. The firm is also partnering with Branch Technology and PlayCore Inc. to help bring their “inclusive, playful space” to life. The design will occupy the terrace of the building and include a variety of elements.

Although the design is still in the early stages, Lauren Dunn, architect with Elemi, said the space will also be healing to those who visit.

Elemi Architects debuted tentative designs for the Secret Garden during the news conference. (Photo: Staff)

“We want to create a unique and engaging solution for the terrace, a place where families and patients can come together and connect with each other,” Dunn said. “We want to create something that is unlike anything else in the area.”

Dunn said she hopes the Secret Garden will become a recognizable beacon for the hospital.

“We have some general ideas, but we’re excited to get into the nitty-gritty of the design,” she said. “We want to be technologically forward and reflect natural and human resources.”

From the description of the design:

Envision lightweight, organic forms creating trunks and canopies and inviting discovery and creativity. Picture peek-through openings to engage those on the ground level and a “memory wall” where objects of importance to children and families are embedded to be discovered by others. Picture a space where any age and ability can take a moment to connect-with their families, with other patients and with their own senses-including their senses of empowerment, discovery and creativity.

Crews will officially break ground on the first phase of the 90,000-square-foot center in early June. The target completion date is July 2018. The first phase will serve an estimated 100,000 kids annually.

Rock City Gardens opened to the public May 21, 1932. To mark the occasion, guests can purchase an annual pass for $19.32 (less than the cost of one-day admission) Sunday.

The 85th anniversary coincides with the Southern Blooms Festival, honoring Rock City’s original gardener, Fried Utermoehlen Carter.

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