Named for a young girl who died in the 1970s from a simple, treatable infection due to lack of available care, the Virginia Garcia Memorial Health Center was founded 35 years ago in a small garage to provide healthcare to migrant farm workers and their families. It’s grown to an organization that provides comprehensive health services to more than 35,000 people.

For the provider’s new Cornelius Wellness Center in Cornelius, Ore., opened in October 2012, the design team from Scott | Edwards Architecture (Portland, Ore.) discovered in a series of outreach meetings, workshops, and charrettes how important it was for the facility to be a true civic gathering place. Not only would patients from a range of generations and cultures receive medical, dental, mental health, and vision care at the center, but they also could attend classes and communal gatherings or even grow food there. The owner’s goal was to create a place where community pride and health are celebrated as indispensable to each other.

With additional expectations of achieving LEED Silver certification from the U.S. Green Building Council, the building was also the first project to be constructed under Cornelius’s new downtown design guidelines—a major piece in the city’s plans to create a true downtown. The project would need to be appropriately scaled, pedestrian friendly, and visually interesting on all sides, as well as accessible to the community at large.

Expanding care
When CEO Gil Munoz came to Virginia Garcia in 1991, the center occupied the original garage in Cornelius and a converted house. The house had been expanded and remodeled several times and had long past reached its useful life. The organization first began working with Scott | Edwards on a replacement building in 2002, but fundraising took nearly a decade as planning studies were conducted to determine a model of care.

The new 35,000-square-foot center is the first of Virginia Garcia’s facilities—spread across eight small towns and suburbs in Oregon’s Willamette Valley—that’s built from the ground up and designed for the organization’s patient-centered medical home model, in which factors such as nutrition, preventive care, and fitness are intertwined with healthcare services. (For more on medical homes, see "New Model Of Care: Designing For Medical Homes")

“Seven years ago when we started down this path, there wasn’t much attention to this model of holistic care, but it has caught on in the industry over the years, and now there are federal and state programs that have really supported it as a best practice,” Munoz says. “We got started early on through a collaboration with other organizations that were looking at trying to improve primary care services and address chronic disease and care management.”

Creating a campus
The design team worked with the provider to take a full city block development and create a wellness campus. An alleyway acts as the central spine, with the wellness center to the north and the existing dental clinic to the south. Adjacent is a pervious-paved parking lot, which also acts as an outdoor event space. South-facing multipurpose spaces designed for lifestyle classes open to a civic plaza. Community garden beds maintained by a local nonprofit partner organization line the west edge of the lot and provide produce for an on-site teaching kitchen.

“Our annual health fair is in the parking lot, and we have a farm stand out there once a week,” says Ivy Wagner, coordinator for the Cornelius center. “I’m hoping to bring in more community wellness nights, so we can use that area even more. It’s not just a matter of being outdoors or having extra space. For most of the Hispanic cultures in Central America, the plaza as a gathering place in the community is really important.”

Step inside
A skylight provides natural light to interior spaces, as a vaulted ceiling creates a central traffic spine. A welcome and registration area is clad in naturally stained Douglas fir siding, which was salvaged from the 120-year-old post office removed from the site prior to construction. Adjacent to the welcome center are the community outreach library and offices, pharmacy, and vision clinic. Down the hall are multipurpose areas as well as the teaching kitchen. Emphasizing connectivity, a grand staircase sits directly beneath the large skylight and is positioned in front of the main elevators to encourage their use.

The second-floor clinic is adorned with bright colors and signage to distinguish each of the integrated healthcare suites, which surround an open lobby/waiting area with double-height windows overlooking both the front and back entry arcades. Additional skylights bring light into the interior areas that can’t otherwise access natural daylight. Treatment rooms were placed closest to the central lobby to ease patients’ route in, with facilities for the integrated care team placed at the exterior to provide staff access to views and natural light. There are also group rooms in which a team of caregivers can consult with individual patients or conduct group classes and treatment.

“The integrated nature of having team-based medical care upstairs, then on the ground floor [having] dental, vision care, the pharmacy, and then this wellness component with a teaching kitchen, exercise space, and classroom space—it’s rather amazing, the model and the potential of what’s happening,” Wagner says.

Making people well
Munoz says, overall, the new wellness center is a step forward for the community as well as for Virginia Garcia’s model of care. “One of our staff members commented when we first moved in, ‘This building just makes you feel well. It makes you happy just to be here.’ I’ve also heard both from staff and from community members and board members that our facility really provides a feeling of respect and a feeling of pride for the community we serve. That is very important in the overall area of health and wellness: that people feel respected, they feel proud to be in a place that is not only functional and delivers high quality care but is an attractive place to be.”

SIDEBAR: Green in the center
As an organization, Virginia Garcia is committed to sustainable practices, within both its medical practice and physical facilities. Seeking LEED Silver certification, the new wellness center includes a number of sustainable features.

For example, all rainwater falling on the site is captured and diverted into rain gardens and bioswales. At the building’s northeast corner, water collected from the roof is channeled through a weathered steel leader into a lush rain garden beside a public seating area. Along the pedestrian alley, rainwater runoff not captured by the parking lot’s pervious paving will enter swales lining the alleyway.

The building is modeled to perform with 30 percent greater energy efficiency than what’s required by code. Its brick-veneered exterior envelope is coupled with enhanced wall insulation and high-performance windows, efficient lighting and controls, and an efficient variable-refrigerant-volume conditioning system with heat recovery.

Different glazing types were used at various locations along the perimeter, according to each unique heat gain condition; this also helps vary the building’s exterior appearance. The rooftop is structured with mounting points and outfitted with an electrical connection point to support a fut
ure photovoltaic array.


Sid L. Scott, AIA, LEED AP, is the founding principal of Scott | Edwards Architecture (Portland, Ore.). He can be reached at