Health Care and Environment

St. Francis thinking green in $42 million renovation: Mooresville hospital features 'healing' rooftop gardens

April 14, 2008

Guests attending the April 19 open house at the newly remodeled St. Francis Hospital-Mooresville will get a sneak peak at the facility's $42 million makeover.

The project increases the size of the campus from 258,000 square feet to almost 400,000 and adds everything from a new, eight-bed intensive care unit to two additional adult inpatient nursing units. But perhaps the most innovative touch-at least from an aesthetic point of view-can be found on the roof.

Like a handful of other medical facilities around the country, St. Francis Hospital-Mooresville has elected to install a rooftop garden. Or rather, two. When planted, they will be visible from the windows of patient rooms in two nursing units, and also to occupants of the intensive care waiting area.

"As far as we know at this time, we are the only hospital in central Indiana that currently has this," said Anita Trackwell, the hospital's clinical services director.

The expansion is the latest development in what has been several decades of steady growth for the facility, which opened in 1881 as a specialized colon and rectal disease clinic. It was acquired in 2000 by St. Francis Hospital and Health Centers, and shortly thereafter underwent its first major expansion, costing $20.8 million and adding 77,000 square feet.

Healing attributes

The gardens are designed to help foster a "healing environment" by bringing a bit of the outdoors inside-or rather, as close to inside as practicable.

Research has shown that gardens and other such "green" touches yield tangible results. For instance, a seminal 1984 study published in Science Journal found that patients with views of nature went home three-quarters of a day sooner, cost $500 less per case, needed fewer heavy medica tions, and seemed to exhibit a greater sense of well-being.

"The health care industry is by far one of the more important sectors that can benefit from the practice of green building design and construction," said Rick Fedrizzi, president and CEO of the U.S. Green Building Council in Washington, D.C.

The Mooresville facility already includes two patio areas done in Indiana shale and complete with running waterfalls. Both patients and visitors have access to them.

"There are ducks living in the nearby ponds, and the tulips are just beginning to bloom," Trackwell said. "People enjoy being around nature. So do our patients. If we can provide an environment for them that reduces stress and promotes their psychological well-being, then that's the direction in which we want to go."

Harder than it looks

St. Francis Hospital and Health Centers began toying with the concept of unorthodox plantings some three years ago, when it examined the work of a company called Chicago Specialty Gardeners, which pioneered the use of prefabricated, interlocking "tubs" in rooftop gardens and had already applied it to several medical facilities in and around the Windy City.

"We looked at some of the rooftop gardens in Chicago and said, 'This is great. This is what we want to do,'" Trackwell said.

But putting in a couple of gardens wasn't as simple as trucking some dirt up to the roof. Margin for the extra weight had to be made in the architectural plans, and the contractor, Tonn and Blank Construction, had to specially reinforce the buildings on which the plantings perch.

"It was a little different," said Brian Phillips, senior project manager for Tonn and Blank, which is based in Michigan City and has a regional office in Indianapolis. "We had to make sure that the structural design of the building could take the weight of the gardens. And we wanted to ensure that the roof was watertight and that they wouldn't have any water-infiltration issues with the dirt and the plantings up there."

The roof was built to hold about 50 pounds per square foot-more than enough to support the roughly 7,200 square feet of plantings.

Landscapers will have access to the gardens, but patients and visitors can only admire the greenery from afar.

"You're not going to be roaming around, because the gardens are near patient rooms, and we don't want members of the public looking into patients' rooms," Trackwell said.

Initially, those patients and visitors won't see much of anything, however. Because of the unpredictability of Indiana weather, the hospital was advised not to start large-scale planting until sometime in May.

"The landscapers are telling us that we don't want to put in the first plantings until we are assured that we have consistently warm weather-above 70 degrees," Trackwell said. "Because otherwise the plants are going to die."

This also meant that the hospital didn't need to rush to select someone to put in the shrubs, flowers and trees. Organizers have talked extensively with Chicago Specialty Gardens, but that firm doesn't have a lock on the work.

"We've actually looked at a number of different landscape artists to try to determine if we can go local so we can support our local vendors," Trackwell said. "We're still in the process of determining who that might be. We're very close to a decision, but we haven't signed on the dotted line yet."

A similar rooftop makeover is being considered for St. Francis' Indianapolis campus. It would no doubt be an improvement over the traditional approach to hospital roofing.

"A lot of times, hospitals do have some exposed rooftops," Trackwell said. "Traditionally, what hospitals do is put down gravel. And then patients look out from their hospital rooms onto gravel. That's the other option."
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