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Support system: The Cancer Support Community's new building

Posted on Mon, Oct 18, 2010

By Harold Bubil, Herald Tribune

If anything, people who have just been given a cancer diagnosis need a friend.

At the Cancer Support Community Florida Suncoast's green new facility in Lakewood Ranch, architect Michael Carlson has given them eight, in the form of 500-year-old pine logs serving as support posts. He says they are like "old friends."

Recovered from river bottoms, the logs are the distinctive architectural feature of the $6.1 million building, which will be dedicated Nov. 12 with a black-tie gala. The four, 30-foot-tall main posts support a 156-foot-long archway -- "the bridge of hope" -- that peaks at 35 feet above the building's courtyard, linking the structure's two sections.

"They have so much warmth and character to them," said Carlson, one of the region's leading green architects.

"When you walk in here, these are sort of like your old friends ... who have been here forever and are solid as a rock. You can touch them and feel them. They have that sense of permanence."

"Place matters" to cancer patients, says Johnette Isham, one of the leaders of the "Building Hope" construction program.

Several design charrettes and a lot of research went into the design of the 11,142-square-foot CSC. Senior Vice President Jay Lockaby said one of the research points "was to make an arrival experience, to have an obvious point of entry for someone new to the place. To have a ... warm environment for them to come into."

CSC program participant Dawn Moore, a breast cancer survivor, says there's "a very peaceful sense" in the new building.

That is fitting, as the CSC's mission is to provide psychological and social support to cancer patients and their relatives and caregivers, free of charge. CSC is part of the largest professionally trained network of cancer support facilities in the world, resulting from a merger of The Wellness Community and Gilda's Clubs, named for the late comedienne and ovarian cancer victim Gilda Radner.

The spaces include a meditation and exercise studio, a library, an education room, an art studio for children to encourage self-expression, gallery spaces, an Internet café, counseling and meeting rooms of various sizes; a large multiuse room for events, fundraisers, yoga and tai-chi, with a teaching kitchen (good nutrition is stressed); and outdoor areas for tai-chi, dining and healing gardens.

The complex has restful vistas of a nature preserve that is part of Schroeder-Manatee Ranch.

Color choices replicate colors found in nature, which is believed to be more beneficial for cancer patients.

"A lot of that thinking came from the Ringling College class," said CSC board member David Shaver. "One of their senior classes devoted an entire semester to this building. They did the original color palette."

"The group rooms are quiet, with a living-room feel, but you know you are not at home," said Lockaby. "This is where we do support groups, primarily, and individual and family therapies."

The building, intended as it is to foster better health, includes many of the standard green features that make up the United States Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environment Design (LEED) program. Carlson expects that the building's design has earned enough "LEED points" to qualify for the LEED-NC (new construction) Gold certification.

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