Barbara Joers pondered aloud how challenging it would be to excavate the side of a 60-foot-tall hill bordering Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare on University Avenue as she pondered how best to replace the adjacent flat lot and deteriorating administrative building.
Joers, the president and chief executive officer of a children’s hospital network that specializes in uncommon, traumatic, and difficult medical illnesses since 2013, was used to challenging her colleagues to handle unexpected issues.
“The ambition then grew,” said Joers, recalling how the hospital’s administrative headquarters shifted from just adding extra staff parking to establishing a new administrative headquarters.
Then the idea for a playground arose.
In 2019, architects from LSE Architects in Minneapolis will collaborate with McGough Construction to create blueprints. By 2020, the beginning of the pandemic, workmen were removing the 1960s-era administration building and excavating a portion of the hill in the Mt. Airy area to widen up the junction of University and Jackson streets.
On Wednesday, Gillette unveiled the final product, just in time for the hospital’s logo redesign and 125th-anniversary celebration: Gillette Children’s Gateway Plaza, a contemporary five-story office structure next to a four-story, 500-car parking ramp.
The new and rebuilt 680 Jackson St. boasts a unique amenity: a covered, open-air playground with universal design and sensory elements, such as a low-to-the-ground climbing wall and slides of varying heights and shapes to ease disability access. At 6,700 square feet, it’s a large attraction.
“It is the biggest clinical playground in Minnesota, and maybe the whole area,” said Joers.
Benches inside a semi-enclosed outdoor meditation garden are surrounded by panels making a porous, circular wall next to the parking ramp.
Outside the structure, 65-foot-tall steel girders support a wall along the Jackson Street hill where the Mount Airy Boys & Girls Club is located.
More than seventy offices offer administrative facilities for the CEO and administrative staff, a new board meeting room, telehealth conference rooms, and break rooms with panoramic views of the State Capitol and the Cathedral of Saint Paul.
Ankur Sharma, vice president of integrated care services at Gillette, remarked, “One of my favorite design elements is that we wanted our administrative support to have windows.” Our administrative support has never been equipped with windows. We wanted to construct a place with an abundance of natural light.”
Additional non-clinical office space provides doctors, nurses, and physician assistants with offices.
The Gateway Plaza building has enabled the hospital to free up 2,100 square feet of office space at 205 University Avenue, which is adjacent and linked via a skyway. This now vacant area may be used creatively, according to Joers, such as to enhance patient activities for youngsters.
She said that Gillette Children’s maintains almost a dozen clinics around the state, but its expanding St. Paul facility increases the probability of hiring more personnel and expanding medical programs, therefore reinforcing its long-term commitment to the state capital.