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Flexible design

April 1, 2007
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A large New York provider designs a one-size-fits-all residential facility

Keeping facilities up-to-date with changing treatment trends and regulatory requirements has been a constant challenge for Hillside Family of Agencies, a family and children services organization that provides child welfare, mental health, youth development, juvenile justice, special education, and developmental disabilities services in more than 40 locations across 24 counties in central and western New York. “Like most agencies, Hillside has facilities of various vintages that were originally intended for a specific client population and type of programming,” explains Paul Perrotto, Hillside's CFO. “As client needs, regulatory requirements, and programming have changed, we have renovated and retrofitted existing structures. Renovation is extremely expensive, however, and it isn't always cost-effective.”

Renovations also take time. “When a county approaches us requesting new programs and services, we can't always accommodate their requirements in the time frame they need,” he adds. “Not only is this a missed income opportunity for Hillside, but it means that children and families in need of critical services may not be able to access them.”

Hillside was fortunate to have an anonymous benefactor who recognized the problem and stepped forward to help solve it. His $1 million donation allowed Hillside to develop a residential cottage design the agency would never outgrow. Perrotto, design consultant Judy Newkirk, and Hillside staff spent more than a year developing and perfecting the design. Hillside's first “AdaptaCare Cottage” opened its doors to adolescent boys with sexually harmful behaviors at Snell Farm Children's Center in Bath, New York, last fall, and a second cottage is under construction at Hillside's Crestwood Children's Center in Rochester.


The cottage meets or exceeds the most stringent requirements of New York State's Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS), Office of Mental Health (OMH), and Office of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities (OMRDD). For example, each regulatory group specifies a minimum square footage for bedrooms. If you design for one funder's requirements, renovations may be necessary to meet another funder's requirements. The cottage, however, is based on the maximum square footage requirements, so it works for all possible programming.

Hillside staff provided input and feedback throughout the development process, meaning that the agency's more than 150 years of experience with children and families has been incorporated into every aspect of the design. As a result, the cottage is warm and homelike yet provides a positive therapeutic environment that enhances treatment, as well as an attractive, efficient working environment that boosts staff morale. Its features include the following:

An enhanced therapeutic environment.The cottage has areas for group therapeutic activities, family visits, private space, and staff functions. Integrated public and private spaces foster a continuum of socialization among clients and staff.

Enhanced safety.The cottage features quality materials that resist tampering and minimize the risk of injury or suicide. The design also provides clear lines of sight throughout the building.

Maximum flexibility.The cottage accommodates from six to ten clients, and exteriors can be modified to blend into any campus environment. The cottage meets the most stringent state funder requirements for space per client and can easily be adapted to new programming needs, allowing for quick responses to new opportunities without costly renovations.

Maximum client, family, and staff comfort.The cottage provides a bright, friendly, and homelike environment for residents and visiting family members. At the Snell Farm cottage, staff allowed children to select the interior color scheme. The design includes several areas for group or individual recreation. The state-of-the-art working environment also aims to increase staff's job satisfaction; for example, the office area is designed to support staff administrative functions while not detracting from the homelike environment.

Sharing With Others

In keeping with the benefactor's wishes, Hillside has made the cottage design available to behavioral health organizations and other agencies that must meet OCFS, OMH, OMRDD, or similar regulations. Hillside offers the cottage layout and concept at no charge. Hillside also offers consulting assistance at an hourly rate and site visits by appointment, and can facilitate communication with the cottage's architects.

Perrotto says initial interest has been strong, although it's not a facility every agency can afford to build immediately. The cottage is more expensive to build than traditional residential designs—$100,000 per bed, depending on location, cottage configuration, and design specifications. The cottage is more expensive because it's designed to meet multiple referral sources' requirements, is flexible for future programming needs, and uses high-quality, durable materials. Yet “the savings in repairs and renovations will more than offset the additional cost,” Perrotto adds. “This design also makes an agency more nimble and able to respond to opportunities they might otherwise have to pass up. It's an investment that will continue to pay dividends for many years.”

For Hillside President and CEO Dennis Richardson, the cottage is a leap forward not just for Hillside Family of Agencies, but for clients and referring agencies, as well. “The cottage is a beautiful environment that makes clients feel comfortable and secure. It's also a state-of-the-art therapeutic facility that allows staff to do their best work. No matter what our clients and referring partners need from Hillside in the coming years, the AdaptaCare Cottage will be ready to serve those needs.”