BR area kids try their hand at creating ‘ideal city’

Armed with wild imaginations and boxes full of crafts, a few dozen children spent a good part of their Saturday constructing a model of their ideal city inside the Louisiana State Museum in downtown Baton Rouge.

Pipe cleaner people, cardboard edifices and artificial grass lawns populated the carpeted landscape. They covered more than 40 blocks, each 12 square feet, divided into a grid by 2-foot-wide “streets” inside a room at the museum, also known as the Capitol Park Museum.

Volunteers spent hours prepping for the event, dubbed “Building Blocks: If Kids Ruled the City,” an interactive educational experience meant to foster creativity while teaching children the basics behind city planning, said Kathleen Gordon, an event organizer and executive director of the Baton Rouge chapter of the American Institute of Architects.

Boxes of supplies lined the walls of the room, offering kids the opportunity to incorporate feathers, bubble wrap, egg cartons, marbles, wine bottle corks and lots of cardboard into the city.

Volunteers from the Louisiana Office of State Fire Marshal handed out permits in the form of sticky notes to each little builder. Later on, “inspectors” came by to make sure everything was up to code.

“Obviously, nobody fails,” Gordon joked.

The free event targeted mostly school-age children, but parents and volunteers appeared to enjoy the exercise in resourcefulness just as much as the younger builders.

While Matthew Bohan, 9, tinkered with “Excor,” his model power plant, his proud father took orders with a smile on his face.

“I’m the manual labor,” said Glenn Bohan, on a momentary reprieve from gluing cloth strips onto a piece of foil that was serving as a solar panel.

Matthew explained that the strips divided the panel into grids, so that if part of the panel failed, the whole city wouldn’t lose power.

The determined child then went back to work on his creation, which he eventually set up in a remote corner of the model city. As he put it, nobody likes to live close to a power plant.

In another corner of the room, Caldwell Boyles, 9, was busy arranging miniature bleachers for his outdoor basketball stadium.

Meantime, his little sister, Gracie Boyles, 8, glued pink construction paper to “Ever After High.”

At last year’s event, the siblings worked together to build a WWE wrestling ring, complete with action figure wrestlers brought from home, said their mother, Jori Erdman, the director of LSU’s School of Architecture.

This year, Gracie brought with her three sketches on printer paper, all rolled up and bound with pony-tail holders.

Asked why she chose to build the school, she shrugged her shoulders and went back to perfecting her masterpiece.

In addition to the power plant, the high school and the basketball area, the model city also featured a library, another school, the Louisiana State Capitol, a military base and a hotel with rooftop pool, among other buildings.

Layson Ferguson, 6, had the job of building the city’s “Tiger Stadium,” although he exercised some creative privilege with his own model.

In addition to the traditional towering gray stadium walls and grassy field, his stadium had a Ferris wheel and a water slide.

“You can slide right off the upper deck and into the river,” said Layson’s father, Jim Ferguson, who said his son wanted to include the slide so players could cool off when hot with a dip in the river.

Ferguson’s other son, Benjamin, 8, was busy building the city’s military base only a few blocks away from Layson’s football stadium.

“It’s fun to see ... how they picture a city to be,” said Ferguson, a longtime city-parish engineer recently tapped to serve as director of public works and planning and zoning for West Feliciana Parish.

Across the river, which appeared to be made of blue tissue paper and other material, 9-year-old John Kelly was putting together a replica of Alex Box Stadium, complete with purple pipe cleaner baseball players and a scoreboard supported by PVC pipes.

Kelly said he has plans to watch LSU play Sunday inside the full-size stadium, which was as good a reason as any to build one himself.

“I like to build nothing into something,” he said.