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Children's Institute breaks ground on $1M healing garden along Shady Avenue

The Children's Institute's motto is, "Amazing kids. Amazing place."

That place is in the process of getting even more amazing.

As part of its $30 million building renovation and expansion campaign, the Children's Institute is creating a $1 million, 10,000-square-foot therapeutic garden on its Squirrel Hill campus. The groundbreaking was held on Thursday, and the garden is expected to be complete this fall. The campaign, launched in 2005 and successfully completed in May 2009, doubled the square footage of the Squirrel Hill facility from 110,000 to 220,000 square feet, which doubled its inpatient bed capacity from 39 to 82.

The Nimick Family Therapeutic Garden is named for the late Thomas H. Nimick, Jr and his late wife Florence Lockhart Nimick, who both served on the Children's Institute board until their deaths in 1981 and 2007, respectively. The garden is made possible through a $1 million grant from the Nimick Forbesway Foundation.

The garden is being designed by New Dawn Garden Design, founded by Christine Astorino, who has designed healing gardens for the Children's Hospital and the Western Pennsylvania School for Blind Children. Astorino will also be working with the Children's Institute through her research, strategy and design firm fathom, creating a conceptual design idea for the facility's interiors, including art, way-finding and signage.

The fully accessible garden will parallel the Shady Avenue facade of the Children's Institute. Planned features include: An interactive fountain; a shaded pavilion with sunflower umbrellas; a ramp-access treehouse built around a preexisting tree; and raised planting beds for veggies and herbs that are easily reached from wheelchairs and walkers.

"Before, the children and families didn't have a space to experience the outside except for the playground," says Astorino. "We'd see parents walking their kids in strollers around the entire block, the entire perimeter. There was nowhere for parents or staff to escape to. This creates that amenity. The healing garden is about engaging with the outdoors with different plant matters and sculptures. It's about having quiet time, as well as group activity time. And what's great is that the community is allowed to access it as well."

Like the Children's Institute's popular playground, the garden will be open to the community, as well as the Children's Institute's students, patients and families through the hospital, Day School and Project STAR.

In fiscal year 2009, the Children's Institute served approximately 7,000 children and their families, and provided $5.5 million in charity care.

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Writer: Caralyn Green
Sources: Christine Astorino, New Dawn Garden Design and fathom; Helene Conway-Long, vice president of institutional advancement, the Children's Institute of Pittsburgh

Image courtesy Children's Institute of Pittsburgh

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