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Centre for children with complex care needs takes shape with new renderings

The Provincial Health Services Authority and BC Children's Hospital unveil the latest design for an exciting new centre that will help children and youth living with health complexity.
bird's eye view of new complex care centre at Slocan site
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The centre, which will be located at Slocan Street and 21 Avenue in Vancouver, will be the first of its kind in Canada, and one of just a few internationally, to offer a combination of services to children and youth living with health complexity, their families and caregivers. 

The centre will help children that require round-the-clock supervision and care, and rely on many different services within and outside the health system. These are children with complex and chronic conditions who may depend on technologies to survive and may use mobility equipment to get around. 

The centre is slated to open in early 2028 and will be a program of BC Children’s Hospital.

A design based on engagement with key partners

PHSA’s project team worked closely with architects, families and caregivers, health-care providers, Indigenous partners, and community residents, involving them in key design decisions. The three-storey building will have a warm, welcoming, and supportive feel, and will blend with the residential character of the neighbourhood. 

A preliminary concept for the new centre was created in December 2021 to enable costing and envision the scale and footprint of the building. A series of updated renderings showcasing the building design are now available, as part of the project's Development Permit application submitted to the City of Vancouver

An innovative building to support a new model of care

The new centre will support children, families, caregivers, and health-care providers through care coordination, training, and education. It will provide services both virtually and on site. Families will be able to stay at the centre overnight when adjusting to transitions such as going from the hospital to home, starting at a new school, or transitioning to adult care.

Image: Front entrance off Slocan Street. Please note that the final design may differ from this rendering. Courtesy of IBI Group.

Given the nature of these services, the project team worked hard to design a warm and welcoming environment that feels less institutional than a traditional acute care facility. 

“One of our biggest tasks has been to tease out the elements of a typical health-care facility we need to incorporate, while determining where we can push the boundaries to deliver the non-institutional, welcoming, and hospitality-like environment that families have asked for.” Scott-Fraser Dauphinee, Senior Director, Major Capital Projects, BC Children’s and BC Women’s Hospitals

Putting families first

Throughout the design phase, families and caregivers shared the challenges they face with accessibility in a typical built environment. 

“It is so important for the designers, architects, and care providers to really know us and understand our stories. Even some of our family members don’t know what we go through on a daily basis. We want this building to feel like it was built especially for us.” – Darlene Schopman, parent of child with complex health-care needs

Family advisors put together a powerful presentation to show what a day in the life of their child and family actually looks like. As a direct result of that presentation, the architects shifted their approach to include a ramp connecting several levels of the building.

Image: Preliminary concept for interior ramp. Please note that the final design may differ from this rendering. Courtesy of IBI Group.

The ramp is a feature element of the design. It will support the children’s sense of individual choice and control, facilitating their navigation throughout the building’s multiple floors. It also has a therapeutic element, providing children and families an opportunity to practice using mobility equipment. The ramp is a clear demonstration that the facility was purpose-built for the children and families who will use it.

A welcoming space for wellness and comfort

Another key feature of the design is a set of 16 overnight family suites located at street level on 21st Avenue. 

Image: View of family suites off 21 Avenue. Please note that the final design may differ from this rendering. Courtesy of IBI Group.

The suites have their own secondary entrance to make it as easy as possible for the families arriving at the suites to unload the many pieces of life-saving equipment and luggage they typically travel with. 

“The biggest challenge with this project has been to adopt the mindset of the families. When designing children’s health-care facilities, we often think of the kids, but we forget about the parents and caregivers. It’s like being on a plane, and in the case of an emergency, putting the mask on yourself before helping those around you. That’s what we’ve done with this facility. We want to put the parents and caregivers in a better position to support their children.” Tony Gill, partner and lead architect on the Slocan project, IBI Group.

Each suite has two adjoining rooms – one for the child and one for the caregivers and family – with a fully accessible ensuite bathroom. Families toured a physical model of a suite to provide input into the layout.

Connected to community

The suites create the effect of a series of town homes, blending with the residential character of the neighbourhood. The “modern farmhouse” style of the overall building includes shapes and forms that echo the roofs and windows of surrounding homes. They’re not forms typically used in a health-care facility.

Image: View of staying suites at the corner of Slocan Street and 21 Avenue. Please note that the final design may differ from this rendering. Courtesy of IBI Group.

Many residents in the neighbourhood are very supportive of this new centre, which will continue a century-old legacy of providing health-care on this site

“I am looking forward to seeing a revitalized use of this ample space on Slocan Street. As a resident of the area, I’m happy to know that it is going to continue to be a facility that supports children and their families in the province, and continues to welcome residents of the neighbourhood to the site.” Member of community advisory group for the Slocan project

Integrating landscape and nature

The Slocan site has a vast green space with mature trees at its north end. It also has a significant slope that made the space difficult to navigate with wheelchairs when the site was home to the Sunny Hill Health Centre. The updated design provides direct access to this green space from the dining hall, and a set of fully accessible pathways throughout the site. 

The building maximizes views of the green space and surrounding landscape, and lets in plenty of natural light. Two inner courtyards in the family suites, along with multiple balconies and patios, provide outdoor spaces on every level. The updated design includes an enhanced green space on the south-east corner with paths, seating, and planting. A group of residents met with the architects and landscape architects to provide input into what they would like to see in this new shared space.

Image: View of staying suites from corner of 21 Avenue and Kaslo Street. A new green space on that corner will provide connections to the outdoors. Please note that the final design may differ from this rendering. Courtesy of IBI Group.

Advancing reconciliation with Indigenous partners

Indigenous partners have been actively involved in the centre’s design. The building will include an All Nations space and outdoor plaza, as well as an Elder’s room and kitchen. These spaces will be focal points for enhancing more meaningful and impactful relationships with Indigenous communities through ceremony, advocacy, discussion, and dialogue.

Image: View of the All Nations space and plaza from the north end of the site. Please note that the final design may differ from this rendering. Courtesy of IBI Group.

The Indigenous Health team will manage a healing garden with plants used in Indigenous cultural practices. The overall landscape design for the entire site will incorporate native plant species. Elements of Indigenous art, design, and languages will be woven into the interior design strategy in the next project phase. 

Mass timber and sustainability

Image: The front entrance from Slocan Street, incorporating mass timber elements. Please note that the final design may differ from this rendering. Courtesy of IBI Group.

A hybrid mass timber construction is proposed for the new centre, with all below-grade structural elements constructed using non-combustible cast concrete, and all structural elements above level 2  constructed with mass timber. 

Mass timber is a low-carbon building solution that employs engineered wood products typically made of large, solid wood panels, columns, or beams. It captures and stores carbon dioxide, and requires less water and energy to produce than concrete or steel. 

The centre for children with health complexity will be the first hybrid mass timber health-care facility in British Columbia, incorporating a significant amount of mass timber as structural components.


A 74-space daycare will be built on the north-west corner of the site, and will be accessible to families in the community. It will be operated by a third-party, licensed operator. 

The daycare will be designed to Passive House standards, which are “recognized internationally as the optimal way to build healthy, climate-resilient, affordable, and energy-efficient residential, institutional, and commercial buildings through all stages of design, construction, and liveability.” (Definition by Passive House Canada)

What’s next

The Provincial Health Services Authority has submitted a Development Permit application to the City of Vancouver

Further refinement of the building design including interiors, art, and signage will be completed by the design-build team that will build the facility. PHSA has just posted a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) for the design-build contract.

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