For eight year old Meagon, the request is simple, “a waiting room, with toys and couches,” she says.

“Someone to be with me,” says Cayden, whose smile beams across a bright and cheery classroom towards members of the Children’s Hospital of Saskatchewan (CHS) project team.

They are the voices that will help transform the design of Saskatchewan’s new maternal and children’s hospital into something truly special for all the children of Saskatchewan. The more than 40 students from grades two to nine were clear and honest as they gathered in two classrooms in Stony Rapids Community School.

Allyn Stellmacher, lead designer with ZGF Architects, along with project team members for Children’s Hospital of Saskatchewan, worked with students in Stony Rapids Community School on their design ideas for the new hospital.

Stony Rapids is a fourteen hour drive north of Saskatoon, and was the first northern community the project team, including architects, visited the week of May 28 to conduct design workshops. For the past 18 months, more than 200 staff and physicians, along with patients and family representatives have helped create the early floor plans for the new hospital.

As those plans continue to move through the review and approval process, the CHS Project Team is already moving into the next phase of design, which looks at all the details within the building.

“Our Patient and Family Working Group, which is primarily based in Saskatoon, has been key in the design process, but we also know we need to hear from more families from Saskatchewan, particularly northern Saskatchewan,” explains Jackie Mann, vice president Integrated Health Services and executive sponsor of Children’s Hospital of Saskatchewan. “The afternoon spent at the school in Stony Rapids was fantastic. The kids were so energetic. One of the things that stood out for me was how many kids have experienced a stay in a Saskatoon hospital, or have siblings who had. Also, what stood out was how important family is and how important nature is to them.”

In deciding where to travel for these first community and school design sessions, the team considered the home communities of many of the Health Region’s pediatric and maternal service clients. They also studied the recommendations of the 2009 Patient First Review which states, “a patient-centred system will recognize the cultural and regional diversity of Saskatchewan and provides care in a manner that respects both distances and diversity.”

Monday’s visit to Stony Rapids was the first of a four-day northern tour that took the team from Stony Rapids to La Ronge and Ile a la Crosse and finally to Meadow Lake. The tour consisted of a combination of community and school-based sessions which included students from each community. By the end of the trip, the team heard from parents and families along with children from grades 1 to 12.

“We are trying to understand the psyche of kids,” explains Allyn Stellmacher, lead designer with ZGF Architects of Seattle, Washington. “We as adults make it much more complicated than it needs to be. They draw things and say things that are unencumbered with the layers we have as adults. They have an essential depth about what the place has got to be.”

“It is about serving the community and finding out what best suits them,” agrees Terri Johnson of ZGF who facilitated one of the student sessions. “We can start to incorporate into the interior of building some of the patterns, the colours and the animals the kids relate to. We can look at some of the art work or graphics and bring in those elements. We are trying to design something that is familiar to them. It will help them heal faster if they are comfortable with where they are.”

Johnson is excited about what she has already learned from this community on day one. “The exercises the students did gave us insight into this area. For example, the kids are drawn to purple, blue and red. The patterns they tended to favour are diamonds and circles.”

“We also heard that they really relate to the wolf,” says Stellmacher. “The students explained that they’re cool, they have packs and family. They travel together and they are tough. That image seems to knit everything together for them in terms of life and family. They really thrived when we had them work as teams. I was surprised and pleased by how much the students really dug into designing their rooms and how engaged they were with us.”

More sessions are being planned for the hospital during the next phase of design, including a session in a rural community in central Saskatchewan, and a community open house at the CHS warehouse in Saskatoon scheduled for July 26 from 3:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Community supporter Glen Strong helped tour the CHS project team around Stony Rapids, which included a tour of the local health facility, and talking with local health care providers.

Strong explained to the students the significance of the tour and exercises. “We are breaking new ground here today,” he told the grade 6 to 9 students. “We are helping to design something that will be part of our future. We are making history and you have a chance to make a difference.”

For more details and pictures of the sessions, please visit: www.saskatoonhealthregion.ca/chs or the Children’s Hospital of Saskatchewan Facebook page.