Since 1956, the Prouty Garden at Boston Children’s Hospital — a green space cut into the medical center’s congested Longwood Avenue campus — has been a place where young patients can be kids. While this legacy is important, the land the garden sits on can serve an even greater purpose as home to a building critical to Children’s future.
Hospital officials concluded the parcel is the only practical site for a desperately needed 11-story building to accommodate a state-of-the-art intensive care unit for infants, a pediatric heart center, and additional operating rooms. The 500,000-square-foot building also will allow Children’s to provide more privacy for patients by eliminating all of its double-bed rooms. “We see kids with incredible issues and we have the opportunity to change lives,” says Dr. Kevin Churchwell, Children’s chief operating officer. “But we’re significantly behind in having the types of spaces we need for optimum care. We have babies side by side by side, and no room for their families.”
Given the strong bond so many people have to the half-acre garden, it’s no wonder there were impassioned protests when Children’s announced its intention to raze Prouty as part of the $1 billion expansion project. On Thursday, the garden’s supporters will make another pitch to preserve it, at a Massachusetts Department of Public Health hearing to consider whether the expansion addresses unmet health care needs. It’s a standard part of the approval process for any significant hospital project. The state also wants Children’s to pay for an independent analysis to show the plans are in line with Massachusetts’ “health care cost-containment goals.”
Children’s has demonstrated its willingness to work with the City of Boston, the Prouty family, and others to create spaces that can serve as a respite for families with sick children. Churchwell says the hospital recognizes “green space is part of the healing process.” Next year, a new garden is scheduled to open on the roof of Children’s main building. The expansion plans also call for a smaller outdoor garden (about half the size of Prouty), and indoor spaces that can be visited by patients who are unable to go outside. As hospital officials have pointed out, Prouty often isn’t usable by anyone during cold weather months.
Jim McManus, a consultant working with Friends of the Prouty Garden — a group that has mobilized support for keeping Prouty intact — isn’t impressed. Rooftop gardens are typically windswept, unwelcoming, and devoid of wildlife, he says, and indoor green spaces are too hot in summer. Children’s can grow “without trashing Prouty,” McManus says. “If you put a building there, it’s irreversible.”
The Department of Public health hearing will, understandably, be emotionally charged. But emotions should not play into any decision that might affect the hospital’s ability to provide the best, most efficient care possible. Prouty has benefited thousands of patients and families over the years. Its demolition, though painful for some to contemplate, will ultimately benefit many more in the years to come.