St Marys Hospital - Perkins+Will Canada / Farrow Partnership Arc

St. Mary’s Hospital expansion an act of healing

Facility celebrates traditions of First Nations community affected by site’s former use
Thursday, November 20, 2014
By Michelle Ervin

Its hammered-copper rays glimmer through the two-storey glass entrance to St. Mary’s Hospital. Measuring 20 by 50 feet, the sun is a First Nations mural constructed from local reclaimed materials including reused form plywood and cedar wood from milling operation cutoffs. It’s a symbol of healing, and in more ways than one, says Tye Farrow, of Farrow Partnership Architects.

The recently expanded and renovated B.C. hospital is the former site of a residential school farm.

“When we started the project, we really understood that there was something very important about the building as an act of healing,” Farrow says.

Since opening in 1963, St. Mary’s had already undergone an expansion and a renovation. Its latest transformation added 5,400 square metres to the site, bringing its total footprint to 11,500 square metres. Client Vancouver Coastal Health’s goal was to increase the facility’s capacity to accommodate the growing population of the surrounding Lower Sunshine Coast communities it serves.

The site’s history would serve as inspiration when Farrow, in partnership with Perkins+Will’s Vancouver office, set about working on the $44.25-million project.

The Sechelt First Nations community donated the 11.2 acres of land on which the facility sits today to the provincial government in 1962 for $1. The hospital’s original site was across the town from the First Nations community’s reserve, accessible only by precariously rocky roads.

“They were somewhat isolated, and so the First Nations community did quite an extraordinary act, about giving the land in the centre of town, which would then house this new hospital in the ‘60s and help the health of everybody in the community,” Farrow says.

In consulting with community elders, the architects learned about the Sechelt First Nations’ tradition of storing their most important possessions in what are known as “bent boxes.” Formed from cedar, about half-inch-thick, four-inch-wide, one-foot-long boards are scored in three places and heated to create their bent shape. They are then fitted with a top and bottom and decorated with paintings.

The craft is echoed in the curved corners of the expanded hospital’s façade, constructed from smooth precast concrete panels.

“They try to speak to this bent box tradition, albeit in a different material,” Farrow says, “meaning that the hospital symbolizes something that held some of the most precious and important moments in our lives, either if that’s the celebration of a birth or the mourning of a loss.”

The craft is further echoed in between the concrete panels, with earth-toned cementitious panels representing the painting of bent boxes.

The project’s art program showcased the talents of the Sechelt First Nations. The lobby’s sun mural is accompanied by three totem poles, carved from trees cut down in ceremonies, as well as a watermark-like wayfinding system in the elevator lobbies that uses eagles, whales and wolves as symbols.

The project was recognized at Design & Health International Academy Awards for use of art in the patient environment. The project was also recognized at those awards for sustainable design.

St. Mary’s is designed to be North America’s first carbon neutral hospital and is targeting LEED Gold certification.

Rod Maas, associate principal in charge of the project, from Perkins+Will’s Vancouver office, points to the building’s well-insulated skin and deep geothermal field as key features supporting these goals. Maas estimates the roof has an R value of 60 and the walls an R value of 40. The geothermal field is comprised of 125, 250-feet-deep boreholes, which heat and cool the building via radiant slabs.

The facility also possesses — at 19 kilowatts — B.C.’s largest photovoltaic array, which delivers electricity.

Plus, the building’s architects have employed a handful of passive strategies.

“We’ve achieved some very high levels of daylighting, which is unheard of in radiology and patient rooms,” Maas says, adding, “we’ve given the patients access to natural daylight and natural ventilation through operable windows.”

The original master plan for the hospital would have placed a new building on a forested part of the property. By adding to the existing building instead, the architects were able to preserve the scenic views, including vistas of the Georgia Strait, enjoyed by patients.

Patient rooms are private, marking B.C.’s first single-patient rooms in the province. The private rooms have made for a quieter, and therefore less stressful, facility. In fact, Farrow says one nurse has reported that patients have required less medication.

Patient rooms are also single-handed, which is another first for B.C., orienting rooms in the exact same manner to minimize mistakes. The idea is to ensure nurses can expect to find all the equipment in the same place, no matter where they are in the hospital.

“You can imagine if you mirrored a room on the other side of the corridor, then a nurse walking into that room when she’s tired or fatigued, or not really thinking straight, reaches for oxygen and she gets suction,” Maas offers by way of example.

Medical supplies are stored in patient rooms, allowing nurses to spend more time with patients and contributing to infection control. Lacrosse stick-shaped corridors help to optimize work flow for nurses.

The expansion, completed in spring 2013, added two floors of patient rooms to the now three-storey facility. It also provided for larger emergency, radiology, maternity and critical care wards. The lobby’s expansion was completed later the same year.

“We’re so grateful to the Sechelt Indian Band for their generous gift of land so we could build this hospital for the communities of the Sunshine Coast,” Donna Shugar, chair of the Sunshine Coast Regional Hospital District, said in a press release at the time. “We’ve supported this project from the beginning and are delighted with the new St. Mary’s Hospital, which will serve this community for many years to come.”

Renovations to the existing building, which will provide for an expanded ambulatory care unit, a new endoscopy room, an expanded mental health unit, and enhanced laboratory service and pharmacy departments, were ongoing at press time.

Photo © Latreille Delage. Photo courtesy Farrow Partnership Architects.