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Relatable designs for teens in treatment

October 5, 2011
by Nick Zubko, Associate Editor
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Rushford transforms an old school into a residential facility for adolescent males

Being a teenager can be tough, and it's even more so when drugs and alcohol are involved. That's why Rushford, a Connecticut-based treatment provider, recently opened a new facility in Durham, Conn., designed specifically for adolescents and families struggling with drug and alcohol addiction and substance use disorders.

Using a converted school as a foundation, the organization envisioned Rushford at Stonegate as a private, 90-day program that provided a distinct combination of comprehensive evaluation, intervention and treatment approaches for adolescent males ages 13 to 17 and their families. The 16-bed residential facility is located on the 43-acre Stonegate Springs campus in Durham.

According to Amy Hickey, Rushford's vice president of business development and community relations, Stonegate was designed to “close the gap” between the number of teens who need substance abuse treatment and those who receive it.

“In doing market research, we realized that there just aren't programs like this in Connecticut,” Hickey noted. “Kids were being sent out of state, which obviously creates barriers for family involvement because of distance and travel time.”

A juvenile concept

In early 2010, Rushford developed a business plan for the new program and soon identified the school as a potential location. While the building offered the organization 10,000 square feet of space to work with, it also required a significant renovation that took the better part of five months.

The building's two floors were made up of large classrooms, so it all needed to be rebuilt. Three classrooms on the second floor were converted to private and semi-private bedrooms for 16 clients (six singles and five doubles), in addition to four full bathrooms, a medication room, and an area for a residential aide to stay during the evenings.

“All 10,000 square feet were completely changed,” notes Hickey. “We put in all new flooring and surfaces, we added walls that didn't exist before, and took other walls down. We installed plumbing, electrical, fire and safety, an emergency generator, and an innovative security system with a monitoring with 16 cameras with digital recording.”

Other key parts of the rebuild included a dining room that seats 20 people in order to accommodate staff and families during visitations, two group rooms, a fitness center, basketball courts, and a recreation room complete with two large flatscreen TVs (one hooked up to a BluRay player, the other to an xBox Kinect), a foosball table, and a computer.

"We didn't want it to look institutionalized, seem like a hospital, or have a clinical feel,” says Hickey. “We wanted to create an environment where the clients, adolescent males, would feel at home, that this was a place they could see themselves staying.”

Uncommonly modern

In regard to furniture selection, Hickey points out that it was really with an adolescent male population in mind. That meant keeping the space open, but at the same time making sure that even the larger spaces and common areas retained a sense of warmth.

“We also wanted it to feel ‘hip’ and relatable to the age group,” she adds. “But sustainability probably ended up being slightly more important than looks, so we tried to balance the two.”

That being the case, oak furniture with wood laminate was selected from Furniture Concepts to ensure the pieces could “withstand the type of use we expect from the clients that we are serving.” However, the heavy-duty, commercial style furniture selected still looked “a little bulky, and not quite as modern” as they wanted.

The solution to that problem was the cushions. “We decided to trade out the different types and styles of cushions on the seating for the recreation room,” explained Hickey. “That really enhanced the environment for the look we wanted-that hip, modern feel.”

Hickey said a significant amount of time also was spent determining the best style of fabrics to use, which resulted in the use of several “bright, more modern colors.” Materials were also chosen for liquid and mold resistance, as well as the capability to help eliminate infection.

In the dining room, a large wall was painted with magnetic chalkboard paint, providing a space for the writing of messages and the display of artwork. “It's something that can easily change every day,” notes Hickey. “It helps to give the room the fresh feel that we wanted it to have.”

Adding to that feel are several movie posters hanging from the wall, depicting films such as “The Blind Side” and “Napoleon Dynamite.” “They are from movies we thought this population could relate to, but that also contain a positive message,” Hickey explains.

Bedroom basics

For the 11 bedrooms that also needed to be filled with furniture, Hickey says the goal was to purchase “sleek-looking, high-end, very long-lasting, and durable bedroom furniture.” In the end, she says the office furniture selected from Suburban Stationers was slightly more expensive, but “very appropriate” for the needs of the facility.

While filling the private rooms proved to be relatively straightforward, space constraints made the semi-private rooms a bit more challenging due to regulations that require each room to include a nightstand with a lamp, a three-drawer dresser, and room to hang clothes.

First, the Rushford team decided to install built-in closets in each of the bedrooms. In the rooms that couldn't accommodate a three-drawer dresser, they decided to buy “captain's beds” that have a design similar to a trundle below the mattress.

“They have three drawers that pull out on sliding casters, in which the kids can put their clothes,” Hickey explains. “It saved us some space and really looks neat; it just flows nicely in the bedrooms.”