St. Mary’s Hospital Medical Center in Green Bay, Wisconsin, has committed to environmental sustainability for the long haul, demonstrated by its designation as an environmental leader by Practice Greenhealth for five years running. An expansion that includes a new atrium, the St. Vincent Regional Cancer Center at St. Mary’s Hospital, and multiple healing gardens opened in 2010.

St. Mary’s Hospital Medical Center was interested in a healing garden for some time and hadn’t found the right location. With the new addition, the opportunity for several gardens came to life. Sustainable operations required improving systems within an existing space, and the new addition offered an opportunity to get something right from the ground up.

St. Mary’s describes the project as its crown jewel and reflects on its 10 years of consistent commitment to environmental stewardship as stepping stones to a place it never dreamed of reaching.


Hospital Sisters Health System

St. Mary’s is part of the Hospital Sisters Health System (HSHS), a 13-facility system located in Wisconsin and Illinois. Hospital Sisters is an international, multicultural congregation of Franciscan Sisters. The hospital sisters follow a reverence for the earth, and this deep core value drives their work. The St. Mary’s project was a major part of the HSHS ongoing initiative to express its values in architecture and interiors. As design progressed, nature—in the form of gardens, stone, wood, daylight, and colors—became the driving force. These principles continue to guide design throughout the system.


Partners in healing

Berners-Schober has partnered with Hospital Sisters over many years and was the lead on the project. In-house architects, engineers, and designers facilitated the integrated team approach. Landscape design was provided by Higgins & Gerstenmaier of Richmond, Virginia. The development of the HSHS Franciscan environment was a joint effort involving the Sisters in Springfield, Illinois; Berners-Schober; Odell Associates of Richmond, Virginia; and St Mary’s.

The addition was an opportunity to create a new space while simultaneously improving upon the existing inpatient care facility. The integrated team created a formal entryway with valet parking and a lobby with vaulted ceilings, fireplace, and natural daylight. With the firm commitment to environmental stewardship as a core value, emphasis on healthier materials and patient comfort was critical. People coming there are in need of a warm, comfortable environment, where they can reflect and receive treatment for their illness in a healthy and calming environment.

The setting, views of nature, radiant flooring, and use of safer materials helped achieve this goal. Materials free of chlorinated plastics and formaldehyde were identified. The team specified materials with a focus on operational opportunities for reduced chemical use—for example, rubber floors and a nonPVC resilient plank were chosen to avoid the need for harsh chemicals in the cleaning process.

Other materials were selected for their recycled content. In a first for the health system, 11 streams of material were segregated for recycling during construction. The segregation and material diversion reporting is now a standard for all construction projects within Hospital Sisters.

Another pilot from this project was heat reclamation. A chiller was required for maintaining a cool environment for diagnostic and computer equipment. The heat given off from this equipment would be emitted into the outdoor environment. Through heat reclamation, the process captures wasted heat, sends it back into the building, where it is used to heat the floors in the cancer center’s infusion area, in the lobby, and in outside entryways. No salt or chemicals are used for snow and ice removal.

The patients receiving infusions often felt cold, and the radiant floor heating was a way to add to their comfort during visits. The local utility provider, WPS, calculated that the savings is the equivalent of heating and cooling 72 2,000-square-foot homes in Wisconsin on a year-round basis.


The three gardens

This design optimized opportunities for gardens throughout the cancer center, including the infusion garden, the meditative garden in the front of the building, and a 16,000-square-foot living roof.

The living roof offers more than a view; it is an expansive space for active use by staff and patients alike, offering both a paved area with benches and more than 16,000 square feet of space. Walkways are maintained with a raised edge for safety, and a safety railing is at the perimeter of the building.

The roof planting included eight varieties of sedum, chosen because the plant starts showing color as early as March, is both rain- and drought-tolerant, and offers a variety of colors throughout the season. The colors include yellow, white, pink, and purple. When the weather is cooler, the sedum turns to a burgundy red. Additionally, the plantings aid in the cooling of the building.

The biggest challenge to the living roof system was the $500,000 price tag. With a 10-year history of stewardship preceding this project, the community had an expectation and appreciation for St. Mary’s commitment, and this kept the living roof system on the table. The Kress Family donated $500,000 for the roof, making the vision a reality.


Water conservation

One of St. Mary’s first programs was storm water management to direct rainwater back to the earth and its aquifers, rather than directly to the sewer. The cancer center offered an opportunity for St. Mary’s to build upon its earlier storm water management project with continued focus on water conservation and management strategies.

For the cancer center, rain water is recovered through the use of reservoirs on both sides of the building. The water is stored in 4,000-gallon cisterns and used to irrigate the gardens. The irrigation system can be set on a timer or manually turned on as needed. Waterless urinals and low-flow fixtures add to water conservation strategies.

St. Mary’s has learned the value of long-term commitment, community leadership, and big ideas. From its start 10 years ago as a recycling program, hope is growing at St. Mary’s Cancer Center. HCD


Janet Brown can be reached at