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St. Francis Medical Center in Chesterfield County, Va.

Higgins & Gerstenmaier, PLC
Editor Stephen Kelly

The fire lane (code requirement) that raps around the St. Francis Medical Center Hospital in suburban Richmond, Va. was not surfaced in asphalt or concrete per the norm, but in heavy-duty brick pavers on a sand-setting bed over compacted stone to match the courtyard hardscape.
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St. Francis Medical Center is a 45-acre medical campus in Chesterfield County, a suburb of Richmond, Virginia. The center is part of the catholic health system Bon Secours (literally "good help" in French). The campus comprises a 130-bed acute care hospital, an attached six-story medical office building and two freestanding medical office buildings--the Bon Secours Cancer Institute and the Family Practice and Child Care Center.

Design Focus

The design team focus was creating a healing environment throughout the campus. One of the first concerns was parking. For a hospital of this size the required parking is substantial. A long walk through a parking lot was not the first impression the client wanted for visitors.

The landscape architecture and land-planning firm of Higgins & Gerstenmaier, Richmond, Va., proposed a site plan that organizes parking around a boulevard that leads to the entrance courtyard. The parking lots are a series of smaller lots on both sides of the boulevard that minimize the distance walked on the asphalt. Once on the boulevard there is pedestrian-scale lighting, a wide sidewalk and landscaping leading to the entrance courtyard.

The defining architectural element of the entrance courtyard to the St. Francis Medical Center campus is the 95-foot tall campanile (bell tower), modeled after one in Assisi, Italy, home of the hospital's namesake. Other attractive elements of the courtyard are aluminum pergolas with fiberglass columns, heavy-duty brick pavers, precast-concrete light bollards and drive-over lights at the intersections of the accent bands of brick. The boulevard that leads you from the parking lot to the entrance is on the right. This is the main drop off for the hospital.

Entrance Courtyard

The entrance courtyard is bordered on two sides by the hospital and medical office building and on the other two sides by a pergola and 95-foot tall campanile (bell tower) modeled after one in Assisi, Italy, home of the hospital's namesake. A two-tiered precast concrete fountain draws you into the garden. The garden is paved with brick pavers in the roadway and on the walkways. A flush concrete curb and precast concrete light bollards delineate the vehicular and pedestrian areas. Lighting this area was a challenge. The goal was not to flood the area with high-intensity overhead lights, but rather to use indirect and low-level lighting. In addition to the bollard lights, the pergola columns are accented with low-voltage up lights. The roadway is delineated with drive-over lights that cast light horizontally onto the pavement.

For the front of the Cancer Center the landscape architects used the same brick pavers and light bollards as at the hospital. The canopy is heavy timber construction using mortise and tenon joints. The entrance fountain is behind the canopy on the right of the vestibule. "Dura Heat" river birches are the youthful median trees.

Soothing Waters

Water is a central element in any healing environment. The fountain leads people into the entrance garden. Here, fountain jets rise out of the pavement and draws one to the lobby entrance. The jets "dance" to a program and are of interest to those inside the lobby as well as those outside. The paving around the fountain jets is thermal finish granite that matches the color and pattern of the lobby paving.

The Infusion Garden behind the Cancer Center is mulched with stone. That specification is because some patients find the odor of wood mulch unpleasant. The stone and precast concrete on the waterfall is the same as the planter wall on the fountain by the entrance. The pergolas are heavy timber with brick and precast posts. "The design challenge here was to make this look like it is part of the architecture," explains the landscape architect. "The architect designed and detailed the canopy on the front and we designed and detailed the pergola."

The chapel has its own garden, which is 16 feet below the level of the adjacent parking lot. Long pergolas define both sides of this garden and help make the space more intimate. A reflecting pool and rill made of granite provides the soothing sounds of water at one end, while a cast stone garden temple serves as a focal point at the other end. The plant palette is a mix of evergreen and deciduous shrubs and herbaceous perennials that provide year round interest.

The infant and toddler playground is sited on the east side of the hospital building to offer better sun protection for the children on hot afternoons. The playground surfacing is artificial turf. There is only one "formal" piece of play equipment. Fiberglass climbing boulders, sand play area, a spray fountain, a children's garden and asphalt tricycle path offer plenty of creative play opportunities. The children's play area is fenced for security. On the other side of the fence a landscape area separates the playground from the parking lot. Here, are life-like fiberglass animals--a giraffe and three elephants--that add another fun element to the children's area.

Code requires a fire lane visible from the cafeteria and more than half the patient rooms. Higgins & Gerstenmaier proposed heavy-duty brick pavers in place of the typical asphalt or concrete for the fire lane. The hospital's cafeteria opens out to a dining terrace, which transitions seamlessly to the fire lane.

The pergolas in the Chapel Garden match those of the entrance courtyard. The retaining wall (left) is faced in brick and Arriscraft masonry units. Above the retaining wall to the left is the parking lot for the attached medical office building, which is the curved glass wall. The chapel is the semicircular piece at the end of the garden. The lawn is a blue fescue. Purple coneflowers and dwarf fountain grass are prominent.

Healing Gardens

At the Cancer Institute, the healing gardens are integral to the design of the building. The signature garden is located outside the infusion suite. Full-length glass affords patients a pleasant view during the long hours of treatment. A natural stonewall with waterfall is the focal point and also screens the view of an adjacent road. This garden is designed to allow family members and friends who accompany patients a place to go that is away from the clinical environment. One notable specification was the mulch. The odor of shredded wood mulch can be sickening to some patients, so stone mulch was substituted.

The focal point at this end of the Chapel Garden is the Haddonstone Garden Temple, a site used for weddings. The ground slopes up to the temple. Straight back from the lawn is a reflecting pool. "Knock Out" roses and asters are among the perennials.

The entrance to the building includes a small garden for patients, visitors, and staff and is focused around a small fountain. After treatment, cancer patients can be very weak. The landscape architects wanted to create a comfortable space for these patients as they wait to be driven home. The teak benches, fountain and landscaping make the space a comfortable respite. The third garden is outside the chapel. Use of floor to ceiling windows expands the space and provides a focal point.

The centerpiece of the campus courtyard is a two-tiered architectural precast concrete fountain. The landscape architects, Higgins & Gerstenmaier, designed all the fountains and pools. Petunias (reddish/purple flowers), daffodils and purple coneflowers are among the perennials in the fountain flowerbed.

Hillside Contours

Sited on a hillside adjacent to the Cancer Institute, the Family Practice and Child Care Center takes advantage of the terrain by separating the entrances for the child care center and the medical offices to opposite sides and different levels. The entrance to the childcare center is an outdoor classroom with low seat walls, colored concrete paving and a granite kugel fountain with a world map. The challenge for the childcare center was to create playground space for the infants and toddlers separate from the preschool children on a site with significant topography. The infant and toddler playground is sited on the east side of the building and is protected from the hot late afternoon sun. The preschool playground needed to withstand the physicality of the kids' play, be low maintenance and be usable soon after a rain. The design opted for artificial turf for the playground surfacing and only one formal piece of play equipment. Fiberglass climbing boulders, sand play area, a spray fountain, a children's garden and tricycle path were included for more creative play. The children's play area is fenced for security. On the other side of the fence and between the parking lot are life-like fiberglass animals--a giraffe and three elephants--that add another fun element to the children's area.

At the entrance garden of the Medical Office Building, fountain jets rise out of the pavement. The jets "dance" to a program and offer interest to those inside the lobby and outside. The paving around the fountain jets is thermal finish granite set in mortar. The granite matches the color and pattern of the stone in the lobby.

About the Firm
Higgins & Gerstenmaier, PLC is a landscape architecture and land-planning firm in Richmond, Va., founded in 2000 from Higgins Associates and Gerstenmaier Design Studio. The principal in charge for the St. Francis Medical Center project was Dave Gerstenmaier; Keith Van Inwegen was the senior project manager.

The entrance to the Children and Family Practice Building offers seat walls, colored concrete pavement and Kugel ball fountain. The playground is to the left.

Project Team

  • Landscape Architect: Higgins & Gerstenmaier, PLC
    Architect: Odell Associates, Inc.
  • Interior Designer: Kathy Helms and Associates
  • Civil Engineer: Timmons Group
  • Contractors:
    - (Hospital) Whiting Turner
    - (Cancer Institute) Lauth Construction
    - (Child Care) Woolfolk Construction
  • Lighting designer/supplier: Lighting Virginia
  • Landscape contractor: James River Nurseries
  • Irrigation contractor: Enviroscape
  • Hardscape contractors:
    - Terratec (entrance courtyard and chapel garden)
    - Stonee Masonry (fire lane and dining terrace)

This fountain at the Cancer Institute is an architectural precast concrete bowl with a granite cap and tile walls. A quatrefoil raised planter of precast concrete with a rough stone veneer circumscribes the fountain. The paving around this is flagstone. The benches are teak.

Hardscape Materials

  • Brick pavers:
    - Pine Hall English Edge (fire lane, chapel garden, cancer institute)
    - Belden (entrance courtyard, chapel garden)
  • Garden temple: Haddonstone
  • Precast concrete: Seaboard Concrete Products Co.
  • Retaining wall facing: Arriscraft
  • Stone: Luck Stone

Site Materials

  • Fountain equipment: Roman Fountains
  • Furniture (Cancer Center): County Casual
  • Irrigation equipment: Toro, Sentinel satellite w/ central control computer
  • Irrigation weather station: Davis Instruments
  • Irrigation distributor: Smith Turf & Irrigation
  • Kugel fountain: Kusser FountainWorks
  • Landscape lighting: Kim Lighting
  • Lighting: Architectural Area Lighting, Kim Lighting
  • Light bollards: Architectural Area Lighting
  • Playground
    - Structure: BigToys
    - Climbing boulders: RockCraft Designs
    - Fiberglass animals: Amusement Products
    - Surfacing: Field Turf Playground

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October 20, 2019, 8:01 pm PDT

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