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By:  Lynne Wilson Orr, Principal, Parkin Architects Limited

There can be very interesting stories behind why we design the building features that we do. Design is sometimes a challenging profession as it can take many years to see the results of your efforts, particularly in healthcare design. But every so often, you see a tangible and welcome outcome from something that was a challenge identified by a client’s story. Recently, we toured a new client through the Brampton site of ErinoakKids Centre for Treatment and Development and talked with staff about some of their stories.

Parkin was delighted to be retained in 2012 as the Planning, Design and Compliance Team for ErinoakKids, a multi-site children’s treatment facility serving Peel and Halton. As an organization, ErinoakKids had recently completed a complete reorganization of how they offered services, just prior to our being brought on board. They were located in 12 different buildings, most of which were leased and none of which was truly suitable for providing care for children with multiple types of physical, developmental and emotional challenges.  It very quickly became obvious to us that their clientele had unique needs and that this was a huge opportunity to create a new type of building solution to meet these needs. It was our job to write Project Specific Output Specifications (PSOS) with which other designers would have to comply, and we had to make these very specific to the needs of ErinoakKids’ clientele.

Working with ErinoakKids staff, the programmers and consultants, we soon realized that the buildings (there were to be three of them in three different locations) could and should be part of the therapeutic process. Sometimes the best ideas for how to achieve this came about as a result of conversations with staff, often about non-related elements and site visits to other providers of similar services, as well as research into the specific requirements of ErinoakKids’ clientele. On one of the site visits made with ErinoakKids staff, we were in a beautiful facility and we saw two young children sitting on bean bag chairs in front of a large stone fireplace. The caregivers in the area seemed to be very responsive to the children’s needs and there was the scent of cookies baking. As an architect, I was initially pretty impressed. The ErinoakKids staff were not! After we left, they were critical of the fact that no-one had involved the children in the making of the cookies. The problem was that not only was the open kitchen area not wheelchair accessible, but it was the production kitchen for the meals, so not a safe place for children. As a result of our discussions, we dictated in the PSOS that fully accessible, child-friendly kitchen areas were to be included in the design of the new facility. The kitchens are a hit with the children and staff and now everyone can participate in making cookies.

The Brampton site has a new purpose-built respite facility with 26 beds divided into two houses. One house is designed to support Medically Fragile Technology Dependent Children and the other designed to accommodate children with autism. Within each house, the staff wanted to have some specially designed rooms with padded walls, a higher window and anti-ligature hardware to make them safe for children with Angelman’s Syndrome, severe behaviour issues and/or hyperactivity disorders. This was translated into specific requirements in the PSOS and then carefully interpreted by the ProjectCo designers. The mother of one of the children, whose daughter regularly spent time at the old respite centre, walked into the new facility and was shown one of the new safe rooms. She burst into tears as she saw where her daughter would stay. The Respite Coordinator was very concerned for her and started to worry that there was something wrong with the room until the woman explained that she was just so relieved that it is such a safe place for her daughter.

Other examples of design elements resulting from discussions with staff include the climbing walls at each site, inspired by one of the physiotherapy staff who mused that a climbing wall would visually reinforce and communicate ErinoakKids’ belief that every child can do whatever they set their mind to do. Therapeutically, the handholds were required to be specifically colour coded to encourage children to overcome colour phobias, to teach others about shapes and assist some children to identify their colours. The televisions behind the mirrors in the children’s washrooms are a result of a visit to the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas where similar TVs are in the hotel bedroom washrooms. However, ErinoakKids uses them to reinforce proper bathroom etiquette and handwashing techniques, rather than to encourage patrons to visit the casino! Numbers on the risers of the main feature stair encourage children to overcome issues with the use of stairs and extra-large landings provide respite for some children who have difficulty with transitions, as well as for others with stamina and physical issues.

Each of these stories was generated through discussions both in formal meetings and informally in the corridors before and after meetings; and are a result of the very close collaboration between the PDC Team, ErinoakKids staff and the ProjectCo designers.

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