The Big Idea: Mill Town Square – Building a Legacy of Refinement Throughout the Journey

“I was inspired by the history of Columbus, including the abandoned cotton mills that blossomed where rail and river converge. Milltown Square represents the redemption of that history and the premier third place for families in the region.”
– Mel McGowan

Eight years ago, Evangel Church approached PlainJoe, A Storyland Studio, to address a host of issues related to their existing building. Over the years, Evangel’s dated facility had been built in phases, resulting in a disjointed campus, parts of which were inaccessible to elderly and disabled members and visitors.

The church was built on land that slopes downward from front to back, rolling into a woodland topography behind the buildings that’s regularly used as a scout camp. Campus buildings on the back of Evangel’s property sat so far below the main auditorium that, in terms of height difference, they were equivalent to a double basement. On the flip side, however, the front of the Evangel Church campus enjoys a high level of visibility in the community due to its position near a major thoroughfare.

These accessibility issues, both indoors and out, posed a tremendous problem for the community Evangel sought to nurture and attract. A large portion of their congregation was elderly, and because of the staircases that connected one part of campus to another, they were unable to access all parts of the building. Evangel’s leaders wanted a solution that would allow both the elderly and the disabled to circulate effortlessly through the entire facility.

With its close proximity to the Chattahoochee River, Columbus is known historically as a mill town. Mills populate its downtown district, and many of the industrial facilities manufacture brick, stone, tile, and more. Because of this local history, the Big Idea we landed on was Mill Town Square; Building a Legacy of Refinement Throughout the Journey. The master plan our architectural team would create was meant to help Evangel Church’s facility evolve into an inviting campus, a gift to the community, and a place that bridges across all generations, allowing for the elderly and those with special needs to navigate the campus with ease.


A Fully Connected, Accessible Master Plan Emphasizing Kids and Community

“We took the story of what God was doing inside the church and put it front and center for our city to see that there is life and community, and God is doing something through Evangel. As a church, we’ve always valued next generations, […] but it wasn’t as visible. [This project] helped us bring that story outside, and then give to our city.”
– Mike McGarvey, Pastor, Evangel Church

As Evangel looked to grow their church community, it became important to address not only the issues of accessibility, but the inviting nature of the building itself. When we began our collaboration, the facility was older, dark, and not incredibly welcoming. Its architectural design was ultimately working against the church and its leadership’s goals, so the PlainJoe team stepped in to start imagining what a transformation might look like. We determined that the project would need to include not only a new master plan, but renovation work and a new building, too.

Evangel’s main building lacked a lobby, and its kids’ facilities were hidden at the back of campus. We proposed a new wraparound lobby, a new kids’ building at the front and center of campus, and playable space outside where families could gather. Adding different types of play equipment would activate the front of the campus, communicating right away that Evangel is a place where families are welcome. The master plan also included a cafe, which would attract community members and serve as a place where they could become aware of, and learn more about, the church that meets on campus.

Our master plan served to move the original architecture into the background, activating the new front area of campus. It also provided accessibility solutions that met the church’s needs in terms of greater mobility for members.


A Refined Design to Reflect the Refinement the Church Is Making In The Lives of Its People

“Now, our campus is full of people, all seven days. If it’s nice weather out, there are people on the outside playground. If it’s bad weather, the indoor playground is open during the week as well, in addition to our coffee shop; so we’ve got people on our campus all seven days of the week.”
– Mike McGarvey, Pastor, Evangel Church

The new master plan effectively overcame the challenges that were holding the church back in fully serving its members. In addition to the new kids’ ministry facilities, the playground area, and the cafe, our architectural team added a worship area for the youth team, a monument sign, a coffee shop, and front area development. The new kids’ building was attached to the main building, as opposed to remaining standalone.

Inside the kids’ space, the theme is Explorers Landing, playing on the rich outdoor experiences visitors and residents of Columbus enjoy. Explorers Landing is inspired by the intense whitewater rafting attractions along the Chattahoochee River. The two-story indoor slide isn’t just fun for the kids; parents love it, too!

Learn more about Evangel Church here.