Comfort Meets Technology

Sept. 25, 2006
Grand Prize Winner in Buildings Interiors Design Awards 2006: St. Anthony Summit Medical Center, Frisco, CO, submitted by Earl Swensson Associates Inc.

Colorado’s Frisco, a vacation hotspot that’s home to 35,000 year-round residents and 70,000-plus visitors during tourist seasons each year, was in great need of a new hospital building and ambulatory surgery center.

Its prior building (a 22,000-square-foot healthcare facility with limited services) wasn’t able to keep up with increasing demand or with Frisco’s recent growth. “The previous facility was doing well in terms of its presence in the community, but it was obviously not at the level and strength that the community was looking for,” says Todd Robinson, principal in charge, Earl Swensson Associates Inc. (ESa), Nashville, TN. The building was also on a site that didn’t allow for future development, an inevitable step for the Frisco, CO, community.

It was decided that a bigger, more functional healthcare facility was the way to go. The community was involved from the start of the project, weighing in on its location and its sensitivity to the environment; considering the unique scenery and surroundings, a special design model was established to form a site-specific hospital. The peaks and valleys of the community’s size (smaller in the summer, larger in the winter) determined how the facility would be designed across 18 acres (using pitched roofs, timbers, brick, stucco, and synthetic stone on the exterior), and the regional ambience influenced interior material selections. Inside, the space reflects a ski-lodge feel, with each of its 25 patient rooms making the most of the nearby mountain views. A wrought-iron chandelier and a stone fireplace in the lobby help patients and visitors feel at home. “It fits the mountain experience and is consistent with the community we live in,” says Paul Chodkowski, administrator, Centura Health/St. Anthony Summit Medical Center, Frisco, CO.

As well as designing for aesthetics and an “at-home” feel, other design objectives included improved operational efficiencies, shared support spaces, promotion of relationships between departments, and flexibility for future growth. For example, to assist with the concept of sharing and cross-training staff members, every patient room in the facility is designed around a central report area so that beds can be used flexibly. “One of the things that’s really important about this facility is that the relationships of the departments, the workflow of staff, the movement of patients, and things related to the operations of the facility were really thought through. It’s very well-designed in terms of keeping operations costs down,” says Robinson. “Our challenge was to address all these operational issues in the new design and do that in a way that fit the ‘lodge’ feel. Comfort is what we were after.”

The facility features state-of-the-art equipment and services: two high-tech operating suites and X-ray, CT scanning, mammography, ultrasound, and MRI equipment are all part of the new building. In addition, it features laboratory and pharmacy services, a chapel, dietary services (including a full-service cafeteria), and a modern emergency department. Also serving as the mountain base for Flight For Life Colorado (which offers all-weather, 24-hour, critical-care transportation for severely injured and ill patients), a helipad was constructed near the facility, with plans currently being finalized to complete a hangar for the helicopter. The helipad location was carefully placed so that the Frisco community is impacted as little as possible by the noise from the incoming Flight For Life Colorado helicopters.

“It really was a balance of blending warmth and technology, and integrating that cohesively and functionally - bringing all of that together,” says Ken Bowman, ESa’s senior interior designer for the project. All of the interior surfaces are very cleanable to meet the restrictions of a sterile healthcare environment. For example, while real wood was used in certain areas of the building (especially in the lobby area), plastic laminate was used for trim, rubber bases, and flooring in clinical areas and patient rooms to ensure sanitation, hygiene, and long-term ease of maintenance. “One challenge was to use materials that would maintain well, but also have that hospitality feel. A lot of that was accomplished through the wood-look sheet vinyl and the ceramic and porcelain tiles in the lobby area. They have a natural-stone feel to them, but maintain very well,” explains Christie McCullough, interior designer, ESa, Nashville, TN.

Although the surroundings and weather played a key role in the lodge-like feel of the facility, the well-known winter conditions also tested the project team’s skills. Good communication between the architect and contractor ensured that the cold temperatures and snowfall didn’t interfere with target dates and budget numbers. To compensate for the climate’s winter weather in terms of the facility’s design, clerestory windows were used instead of skylights (which can leak when snow sits on them for long periods of time), and a glazing was used that provides passive heat gain during the winter months.

The opening of the new facility in December 2005 has meant easier access to primary and specialized medical care, and a full range of high-quality diagnostic, surgery, and treatment options for Frisco residents and tourists. “Creating a technically advanced environment and a very operations-friendly environment, and blending in the patient-comfort factors, was a very important blend. There wasn’t one that took precedence over the other,” says Robinson.

Leah B. Garris ([email protected]) is senior associate editor at Buildings magazine.

JUDGES’ COMMENTS: “The project was able to overcome challenges due to its location and construction limitations brought about by the winter. The project remained environmentally conscious, implementing extensive energy-efficient technologies. But, the bottom line is the ability to take healthcare and tweak it - successfully - toward hospitality.”

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