Children’s Hospital, Harvard expand to save lives, educate youth

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BOSTON – Greg Young is a Trustee of Boston Children’s Hospital as well as President and CEO of its Physician’s Organization. According to one of his patients, who grew from a busy toddler into a busy young man, “Greg is a great guy, who takes time to respectfully consider anyone’s thoughts and opinions. He really is a special person.”

Young and his peers believe the hospital desperately needs to expand so it can continue its mission of saving young lives in the Boston area and beyond. Space within the urban area of Children’s Longwood campus is limited.

“The plan for the facility and the resulting changes in other parts of the campus are the product of years of study,” Young said.

The administration believes that taking over a parcel known as Prouty Garden to accommodate construction is “essential for Children’s to be able to care for the families it serves … Inevitably, finding the optimal plan for such a complex institution in a physically constrained part of the city means making changes that some will find difficult to accept.”

Boston Children’s Hospital plans to build an 11-story hospital tower as part of a $1 billion expansion in Boston and Brookline. Designs for the half-acre space include a state-of -the-art neonatal intensive care unit, a pediatric cardiac center and surgical suite as well as to provide additional in-patient rooms. In other words, the expansion will help Children’s treat more children and work to save more lives.

An artist rendering of the Boston Children's Hospital Clinical Building. (Courtesy of Boston Children's Hospital)

An artist rendering of the Boston Children’s Hospital Clinical Building. (Courtesy of Boston Children’s Hospital)

The expansion plans have not come without controversy or opposition. Some in the community, including parents of young patients who have been treated at Children’s and who have sought solace and serenity in Prouty Garden during the process, have raised a hue and cry over the possible demise of the garden. The state Department of Public Health earlier this year ordered Children’s to conduct an analysis of the $1.5 billion plan. Some 13,000 people have signed an online petition to preserve the garden. Hospital officials say they analyzed many options, but concluded that building the addition was the best, most economical and least intrusive way to accommodate the hospital’s growing needs. A rooftop garden and additional green space will be included in the plan, to make up for the loss of Prouty Garden.

Opponents say the hospital’s attempt to offer alternative green space falls short of recognizing their deep connection to this particular therapeutic, healing oasis.

Attorneys representing members of Save Prouty Garden hand-delivered a petition to the office of the Department of Public Health’s Determination of Need on March 7. The document states seven reasons the DPH should deny Boston Children’s Hospital’s application for construction.

Other recent developments include state Attorney General Maura Healey announcing in late February she will not oppose the hospital’s plans to build the addition, and at least one influential media outlet has proclaimed that the expansion is very much needed to allow Children’s Hospital to operate effectively and to continue its mission of saving lives.

In remarks delivered to Darrell Villruz, Interim Manager of the Determination of Need Program in the Department of Public Health, Young said, “The Hospital is a large institution that has a four-part mission: caring for children, serving the community, conducting research to advance pediatric health, and educating the next generation of pediatric caregivers and scientists.” That letter also said, “I felt terrible when it became clear that the way for the Hospital to be able to serve children and families would (necessitate) taking the Prouty Garden.”

For many, the Garden is a sacred space. The Olmstead design was dedicated in 1956 as a memorial to two lost children of novelist and poet Olive Higgins Prouty of Brookline. The verdant spot is colorfully planted seasonally, whimsical statuary are tucked into and around evergreens, seating, and pathways. A splashy fountain compliments a Dawn Redwood tree offering respite to staff, patients and families to use as an escape from Hospital confines. Sadly, the Garden is also the final resting place for the ashes of some children who passed away at Children’s.

Green space has been the tradition of Children’s Hospital since 1914 when it moved from Huntington Avenue to its present location on Longwood. At the time of the move, the area was an open pasture. In front of the copper-topped Hunnewell building, Boston Children’s signature, specially bred cows grazed to provide safe, tuberculosis-free milk to the Hospital’s patients. In those early days of pediatric care, local scientists worked together developing theories that lead to mass production of reliably safe baby formula. That grazing field, which became Prouty Garden and has served as part-laboratory, part-sanctuary, is the site of the proposed multi-story building.

An artist rendering of the Boston Children's Hospital's main rooftop garden. (Courtesy of Boston Children's Hospital)

An artist rendering of the Boston Children’s Hospital’s main rooftop garden. (Courtesy of Boston Children’s Hospital)

The growing pains felt around Children’s are similar to those being experienced by its teaching affiliate, Harvard University. The University, known around the world as a center of academic ingenuity and excellence, is also the center of upheaval as it expands beyond Cambridge. “A New Era in Allston” by Jonathan Shaw is a feature in “Harvard Magazine” March-April 2015 edition. Within the article, a conversation with University provost Alan M. Garber outlines some of the University’s construction plans. With an endowment exceeding $37 billion buying and building in neighboring Allston became a viable solution to resolving a quarter-century of frustrating space planning in Cambridge. Quietly purchasing parcels of land in Allston was a solution that benefitted the ultimate goals of the University and those it serves, Garber said, “because Harvard, Boston University, MIT, and Tufts are all near the site … you have access to scientists and to students who will be passionate about solving worldwide problems.”

Construction progress in Allston includes more than just a series of high-rise complexes; it also includes the voices of community leaders who feared being elbowed out of the way in pursuit of unshared goals. Concerns of gentrification and unaffordable housing spread around the small precinct. Addressing some components of development, President Drew Gilpin Faust of Harvard and Mayor Marty Walsh of Boston were among others who attended the opening of the Harvard Ed Portal on 224 Western Ave. in Allston last February. In the April 1, 2014-June 30, 2015 “Annual Report on Harvard University’s Cooperation Agreements with the City of Boston” both Harvard and Allston/Brighton community members pointed to the Portal as the core of interaction for residents, students and faculty. The report quotes President Faust: “This is where the emerging Harvard campus meets the Allston neighborhood … where the same spirit of discovery and partnership that inspires students and faculty in our classrooms can enliven activities here.”

Like the hospital, the University endeavors to care for their students, serve the community, conduct research and educate the next generation. Even as they forge ahead with concrete plans to expand the foot print of their facilities, both institutions share a commitment to respectfully consider the thoughts and opinions of those around them.

Ultimately, any development by these private businesses will reflect Harvard’s vision of eminent domain. Children’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School’s teaching affiliate and the University are dedicated to the cause of meeting more than parochial — but global — perspectives.

There’s a message in the memory of Longwood’s cows, the goal of these special institutions is to maintain their commitment to their mission. The spaces used to feed those goals must and will, by necessity, evolve as part-laboratory and part-sanctuary, honoring both what was and what will be.