One would normally think of a nature preserve and a healthcare center as two separate places, with separate functions and goals, but Parrish Healthcare Center in Port St. John, Florida, and architects RTKL were able to pull these two together by creating a safe and healing environment for both the local population of a protected species and the growing human population of the area. Officially named Parrish Healthcare Center and Preserve, the center was built with sustainability in mind, featuring many of the standard LEED approaches that address water efficiency, energy, atmosphere, and indoor environmental quality. Southeast of the building sits a designated protected area for the Florida Scrub Jay bird. The effort to preserve the habitat gives this facility views to untouched nature and adds a novel “green” layer to the project.

Recently earning LEED Silver certification, the 75,000-square-foot freestanding outpatient diagnostic/therapy and medical office building includes miscellaneous imaging, physical rehabilitation facilities, and an urgent care center. On the first level, the facility supports imaging, rehabilitation, sleep disorder studies, and a minor care center. The second level of the building provides generous accommodations for physician offices. “We designed Parrish Healthcare Center to provide patients with compassionate, state-of-the-art care in a green environment unlike anything else in the area,” says Beau Herr, vice-president of RTKL and project director. “In addition to its sustainable design features, the facility also successfully accommodates difficult environmental restrictions that were placed on the site.”

The Florida Scrub Jay is categorized as a vulnerable species, one that is likely to become endangered unless the circumstances threatening its survival and reproduction improve (figure 1). The Scrub Jays' protected status significantly limited the buildable area on the 30-acre site, but designers successfully accommodated the environmental restrictions, leaving the habitat in its natural condition and gaining a LEED credit while doing so.

The Florida Scrub Jay is categorized as a vulnerable species, one that is likely to become endangered unless the circumstances threatening its survival and reproduction improve. Designers successfully accommodated the bird's restricted habitat area on Parrish Medical Center's 30-acre site in Titusville, Florida, and gained a LEED credit while doing so

“RTKL worked with Parrish Medical Center to identify and assess several locations,” says Mike Hoffmeyer, principal/project manager, RTKL. “This particular one was located very strategically for the hospital. Parrish Medical Center is actually in Titusville, Florida, and Port St. John is an up-and-coming residential area that was not very well served with healthcare. So Parrish Medical Center wanted to build an outpatient center in the Port St. John community, and this particular site is strategically located for that. But as we looked into the site we found that it had a restricted habitat for the Florida Scrub Jay.” The hospital decided to pursue the site despite the environmental restrictions, and decided to leverage that aspect by playing it up as a green benefit. “They wanted to show that you can take a difficult site, develop it with care and natural sensitivity, and still produce a usable habitat for humans and nature,” Hoffmeyer says.

The task basically boiled down to avoiding the area and keeping development as far away from the restricted area (one third of the site), while allowing for user accessibility, Hoffmeyer says. “The whole point of a preserve is to not touch it, so we tried to simply stay away from it. [Parrish] purchased enough land to do that, so there was a significant amount of land to respect the Scrub Jay habitat while doing the development that was needed to provide the required amenities, such as parking, for the users of the healthcare facility.”

Designers compensated for typical Florida wetland areas with retention ponds and manmade wetlands, keeping the same quantity of wetland on the site as before development. The new wetlands, which follow the curve of the entry drive, provides a natural buffer, protecting the habitat from stormwater runoff and erosion. RTKL developed the site to emphasize its natural beauty. Designers kept existing vegetation, while new planting was created with sensitivity to the natural ecology. A system of surface drains, underground piping, and several retention ponds collect rain water, which supplies irrigation to the landscaping. RTKL used curved lines in the layout of the site parking, access drives, and walkways to keep “a naturalist entry to the site, so you don't simply get straight-line driveways and large expanses of pavement, but paths that work with and travel through the site,” Hoffmeyer says (figure 2).

The access road lets visitors to Parrish Healthcare Center and Preserve take in the natural beauty as it curves along wetland areas that act as a buffer to the Scrub Jay habitat and help to slow and clean runoff from the parking lot

The building's design blends elements of a nature preserve with amenities found in hospitality settings. The building is oriented with the entry facing north and east in order to protect the main entry with its expansive glass that visually integrates the interior with the natural surroundings (figure 3). The large glass expanse allows the visitors and patients to remain connected with the natural environment, easing anxieties and enhancing comfort. “That significant amount of glass allowed the interior to relate to the exterior natural environment in the healthcare preserve,” Hoffmeyer says. Interior materials also provide connection with nature in the selection of colors and finishes that echo the environment (figure 4). The building also includes an educational kiosk outlining the efforts to preserve the Scrub Jay species and create a sustainable LEED-certified health center. The on-site educational component earned the facility a LEED innovation credit.

The building is oriented with the entry and an expansive section of glass facing north and east in order to shield the building from too much heat gain while connecting visitors and patients with the natural surroundings

The building's design blends elements of a nature preserve with amenities found in hospitality settings. Interior materials also provide connection with nature through a selection of colors and finishes that echo the environment

Hoffmeyer says the unique relationship of the health center and the nature preserve creates a “more calming and soothing environment rather than a harsh, asphalt, built environment. The project very much blends nature into it.” HD

For more information, visit http://www.parrishmed.com.

Healthcare Design 2009 February;9(2):16-19