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Putting lessons learned to use

Red Deer’s Ronald McDonald House will be the first built in a new Canadian community in more than 20 years.And it may be the most innovative yet.

Red Deer’s Ronald McDonald House will be the first built in a new Canadian community in more than 20 years.

And it may be the most innovative yet.

Lessons learned in the past will be accommodated in the new facility, which will provide 11 suites for families who are coping with critically ill children and high-risk pregnancies.

When experience showed that some parents didn’t need to stay overnight but just wanted a place to have a shower or wash their clothes after posting long vigils at their children’s bedsides, the planners went to work.

Rooms available in the proposed facility for nursing moms have been modified to include an extended bathroom complete with showers, instead of the two-piece bathrooms found in the Edmonton and Calgary houses. When not in use by mothers, the suites can be used for those looking to wash up before returning to the hospital.

The laundry was also designed with some day use in mind, said Larry Mathieson, executive director of Ronald McDonald Houses of Alberta. It is that kind of attention to detail that is expected to make the house a welcome resource for families at a difficult time in their lives.

Families are at the centre of everything at Ronald McDonald House. Their presence is felt on every blueprint and every room design.

With thoughts of Alberta winters in mind, underground parking spaces for each suite were included. Why make a pregnant mother or family with tots in tow venture into the cold if there is a way to make life easier for them? An elevator will take visitors from the parkade into the house.

The underground parkade has the added advantage of reducing the pressure on surrounding parking areas.

Acknowledging the challenges some residents may face, at least two suites will be designed to be handicapped accessible. Doorways are wide enough to accommodate wheelchairs, which can be wheeled right into the shower stalls. All 11 suites are equipped with a pair of double beds and bathrooms with showers.

Knowing that families with sick children often need support, suites are purposely designed to encourage visitors to get out and meet others. Rooms are not supplied with coffee makers or mini fridges for just that reason.

“The home in Red Deer will be fairly similar to Edmonton and Calgary in that we tend to try to build the houses with a lot of common space,” said Mathieson. “One of the features of Ronald McDonald House is the ability to have families support each other. We try to design houses with a lot of space to encourage support and community-type living.”

While families may be drawn by the $12 a day room rate and location of the homes initially, they come away with a different measure of Ronald McDonald’s value.

“But what people come walking away talking about is the support they got from other families. So we really try to put a premium on that and try to tend to that a lot in the design.”

Inside will be a communal kitchen and living space with television rooms, laundry room, computer centre, multi-purpose rooms that can be used for everything from magic rooms to classrooms. There will also be fitness and play areas.

“What we’re really trying to do is create a home away from home for people.”

A $12-million fundraising campaign is already underway. Before construction starts, 80 per cent of the target must be raised.

If all goes well, that could put a construction start as early as next year.

It has been a bit of a journey to get this far. Two years ago, Ronald McDonald House was considering creating a smaller facility that would be part of the Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre.

In preparation, a feasibility study was conducted that determined there was enough demand for a separate facility with nine to a dozen suites.

The local Ronald McDonald House was born. The three-storey building is now set for a site on 50th Avenue just south of the hospital.

Local architect John Hull has been hired to create a building that fits in with its surroundings.

“We wanted someone who has done a lot of projects in Red Deer,” Mathieson said, adding they did not want to build a house to some template that didn’t reflect the neighbourhood.

Ronald McDonald House will also have its own offices in the house and administration and fundraising staff will operate out of the home.

“We think that’s a huge advantage as opposed to operating outside the house because all the staff that are actually working for families are right there.”

The total number of onsite staff hasn’t been determined, but it will probably be about eight, most of whom will be working directly in support of families.