One of the greatest things about being an engineer is designing systems that impact people and enhance their experiences within a space — which is why our work on the recently completed B.E. Smith Family Center was so rewarding. From the project’s inception, the design team collaborated with educators, therapists, and hospital staff to understand the unique needs of the children who would use this space as well as enhancements they wanted to see in their new space. This project allowed us to stretch our imaginations to create designs that promote a nurturing environment and elevate the experience of early childhood development.
COLLABORATION FROM DAY ZERO
From the beginning, before a single line was drawn on the design, Henderson Engineers, and the rest of the project stakeholders, attended a project kick-off retreat. The goal of this focused time together was to establish a strategic and unified vision for the new B.E. Smith Family Center. Housing both the AdventHealth Shawnee Mission Early Learning Center (ELC) and the Lee Ann Britain Infant Development Center (Britain IDC), the environment we helped create needed to not only meet the needs of the ELC, but also the unique needs of the Britain IDC. The ELC provides developmentally-appropriate curricula for children of hospital associates and the Britain IDC offers care for children with a variety of special needs from across the community who turn to the center for therapies, education, and support.
The vision the group decided on: a nest. A safe, comfortable place where children of all ability levels could grow, and families could learn. From that point on, the project team thought critically about every aspect of the design from the big stuff like lighting and mechanical systems to the small stuff like which electrical receptacles would dot the walls.
HOLISTIC APPROACH DRIVEN BY DETAILS
Lighting and sound are two major aspects affecting how occupants of a building experience the environment around them. However, for a child with developmental disabilities like autism spectrum disorder, these factors are even more impactful. In considering how to best light the B.E. Smith Family Center, the team engaged Henderson’s architectural lighting specialists to research and develop a system that would deliver the proper light levels while also making sure children feel safe and comfortable. Indirect light sources and LED fixtures with highly uniform light output were used to limit direct glare from luminaries, creating a smooth visual field and eliminating extreme light sources that could trigger or distract children with heightened sensitivities. We also placed controls throughout the space with dimmable zones and the ability to adjust for different learning settings and times of day to even further support a calming environment.
The mechanical equipment for this facility was also selected with the specific needs of the end users top of mind. Our designers paid special attention to the acoustics and noise mitigation techniques, achieving an exceptionally low NC rating, ensuring each area maintained proper acoustics and that the HVAC system would not be a source of disruption. This concern was even more poignant in the therapy pool portion of the facility. Charged with designing “the quietest indoor pool possible,” Henderson’s design team worked closely with our architectural partner and the aquatics consultant on room volume, shaping, and material selection, as well as the ventilation system and layout. By focusing on all the factors that impact sound levels, the project team was able to make sure the space was designed to be as therapeutic as it could be.
DESIGNING FOR WHAT REALLY MATTERS
It’s not just the big stuff, like lighting and sound levels, that matters in a specialized facility like this one, though; it’s the little details that, if overlooked, may not seem to have a big impact, but when treated with the appropriate care can make the occupants’ experience in the space truly exceptional. That’s why the project team included features like on-demand radiant heat in the toddler classrooms to help children stay warm after outdoor water play as staff provide dry clothes. Dedicated exhaust was routed into void space behind the diaper trash cans to continually pull odors from the space. We even led hands-on conversations about the kind of electrical devices that would be installed so the staff could see and use what the design team planned to specify. Taking a trip to the local electrical supplier, our engineers collected a variety of options to review with the facility staff to identify solutions that were not only safe, but functional for the people who would use them every day.
While all our projects influence how end users interact with their environments, it’s projects like this one that are why most of us became engineers. To anticipate and influence the ways our design could enhance lives is a privilege we’re thankful for. We do everything we can to create environments where people can reach their full potential — just like at B.E. Smith Family Center — and we’re proud to have been a part of the team that brought this world-class facility to life.