- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 17, 2015

COLUMBUS, Miss. (AP) - It takes three minutes to walk to the center of the 30-by-30-foot formation being painted underneath a blue sun-structure behind Franklin Academy Medical Sciences and Wellness Magnet School.

Every time one nears the middle, the 13 inch-wide path loops the walker out again, through the maze-like pattern. The path is not a maze. It is a labyrinth. Soon, it will be open to the public.

Franklin physical education coach Terrie Gooch can’t wait for the labyrinth to be ready. She said the artwork will promote well-being of body and mind for her students.

“It’s a focus thing, a meditative thing,” Gooch said. “It’s a way for the students to be active and focus their thoughts.”

Locals have likely noticed the blue pavilion behind Franklin and above the Magnolia Bowl the past few months. The pavilion is entrenched into the ground with concrete and is designed to protect visitors to the labyrinth from the sun.

The project is part of the $250,000 Blue Cross, Blue Shield Passport to Wellness Grant obtained by the Mississippi University for Women.

April Barlow oversees grants for MUW. She said the grant goes to projects at three local elementary schools: Franklin, Joe Cook Elementary and Annunciation Catholic School.

The labyrinth project at Franklin received $20,000.

“We want our community to accept a lifestyle of wellness,” Barlow said.

Labyrinths are an ancient form of meditation and have been found in cultures worldwide to promote thought and reflection, alongside movement. The first known reference to a labyrinth comes from Greek mythology, when Daedalus designed one for King Monos of Crete to hold captive the Minotaur slain by Theseus. Although complex, labyrinths are not mazes because they follow one continuous line to the center of a pattern. There are no dead ends.

The plan wasn’t always exotic. When Franklin was awarded part of the grant the idea was to build a simple exercise track.

“I just didn’t want to walk in a circle,” Gooch said. “So I Googled ‘continuous walking path.’”

A labyrinth is what she got.

For Bill Moss, an artist with 40-years of professional experience, the project presented a new challenge.

“I’m an artist by trade,” Moss said. “This is probably about 30 percent art, and 70 percent layout.”

Constructing a labyrinth is an exercise in geometry as much as anything. Moss measured out four quadrants from the center of the circle, using string and sticks to make a compass that ensured his lines and angles were correct.

“I enjoy doing stuff like this, because I love figuring out the mathematic part of it,” he said as he knelt and filled in two inch thick lines with royal blue paint.

Blue Cross, Blue Shield stipulates that all parts of the grant be open to the entire public, but Gooch said the school intends to take advantage of the space during the day to stimulate learning. Having a lesson outdoors or instructing children to reflect on key words and concepts while walking the path are just a few of her early thoughts.

“We’re trying to create an atmosphere that says ‘movement, focus, serenity’ all while being active,” Gooch said.

Moss anticipates being done painting the structure by the end of the week. Franklin is also installing three benches near the labyrinth, which they, along with MUW, will officially open to the public in July.

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Information from: The Commercial Dispatch, https://www.cdispatch.com

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