Project category: Project in progress (January 2004)

Chief administrator: Randall O'Donnell, PhD, President & CEO, (816) 234-3650

Firm: J.E. Dunn Construction, (816) 391-2537

Design team: Jim R. Miller, Senior Vice-President; Neal Palmer, Assistant Vice-President (J.E. Dunn Construction); Larry Ralph, Principal (HMN Architects)

Photography: Michael Spillars; Nick Vedros

Total building area (GSF): 1,300,000 (new); 224,000 (renovation)

Construction cost/sq. ft.: $110 (average)

Total cost (excluding land): $166,000,000

More than 14 years ago, Kansas City community leaders began their vision of turning Children's Mercy Hospital into one of the nation's foremost pediatric healthcare providers and research facilities. That vision has evolved into more than 60 separate building, renovation, and expansion projects valued at more than $166 million and totaling 1.5 million square feet. Those projects range from a new cardiac catheter lab, with a high-tech teleconferencing suite and six cardiac ORs, to three inpatient additions and two physical plants, to name only a few.

Administrators and staff wanted a facility with a child-friendly, playful appearance and feel. They required exterior and interior façades with rounded corners to soften sharp edges. Visually, there are few straight lines; instead, a wavy line meanders through the halls to add a whimsical feel to the setting, along with bright colors, lights, and large geometric shapes. The goal of the design was to reduce anxiety and fear for children while creating a space where any child would be comfortable coming back.

Inside, a shooting star whizzes across the domed ceiling surface of the rotunda in response to small, clapped hands. Buttons on a wall allow children and adults to change the color of the simulated star-filled sky. The Sybil Silkwood Nutter Playground features a giant electronic piano keyboard similar to the one in the Tom Hanks movie Big. It stretches more than 15 feet through the park, where footsteps of children and adults make the piano come to life.

“Orbits” is the hospital's unique cafeteria. While dining, visitors can step back in time to a 1950s-style diner, complete with neon lights, black-and-white checkered floors, and red chairs and booths. Child-size tables and chairs make even the smallest diners feel at home. A giant jukebox allows guests to play their favorite 1950s tunes.

Another unique feature is the therapy pool with its moveable floor. It is designed so that the water level can be changed from 5' deep to flush with the floor, to meet the needs of different patients. The pool floor is hoisted up and down by a hydraulic lift, and special mechanical systems keep the pool water at a constant 95° F.

Added departments include a 27-bed PICU, a NICU with 43 isolettes, a floor dedicated to oncology, and multiple specialty clinics.

Work on Children's Mercy Hospital continues today with construction of a new research and clinical-facilities building. It will feature state-of-the-art laboratories, as well as outpatient clinics in endocrinology, pulmonology, and infectious disease.