By Sandra Gramley, AIA, NCARB, LEED AP BD+C
The County of San Diego provides crisis stabilization units to deliver services in community-based or hospital settings for people experiencing a mental health or substance-use crisis.
For people in the midst of a crisis, being taken to a jail or hospital may not constitute an appropriate level of care. However, going to a place that has been specifically designed and staffed as the first line of intervention will likely yield better results in the short and long term.
Platt/Whitelaw has been fortunate enough to provide architectural design services for two of the County’s crisis stabilization units, including the Oceanside location.
Here, our firm created a way to transform a first-floor parking garage into a LEED Gold, 8,300-square-foot crisis management center for at-risk adults called the Oceanside Crisis Stabilization Unit. The center also includes landscaped indoor and outdoor spaces designed to promote peace and calm.
While not much about the past couple of years of pandemic seems fortunate, the unusual time of isolation and lockdown gave our designers an unexpected perspective about how to design the center. Mental health was in the limelight for everyone.
Our designers expressed this collective ethos through curved instead of hard edges and corners, landscaped green walls and water features, and a calming but diverse color palette.
“We wanted to give people a space that’s pretty and inspirational – a space that would let them know others care about them,” said Project Coordinator Yolanda Velazco.
Yolanda added that already having designed one crisis stabilization unit for the County meant the team was already full of ideas of what could be done, and what challenges they would need to address.
“We spent a lot of time in meetings going over door hardware,” she said. It turns out that creating a welcoming but secure center with separate entrances and treatment areas customized to different situations requires some very sophisticated door security technology.
Also notable was the design team’s approach to plumbing fixtures. Traditionally, a facility of this type would have stainless steel toilets, sinks, and faucets. Instead, the team found a way to use fixtures and finishes reminiscent of residential or high-end office spaces that still offered the safety required for a crisis stabilization unit.
The existing building presented a challenge, too. Our team had to navigate and incorporate many of the columns of the original parking garage into the design and provide the right balance of window and door openings. It took significant effort to develop ways for the covered parking structure’s transformation to include indoor and outdoor courtyard spaces, too.
As with all successful projects, the Oceanside Crisis Stabilization Unit took a village to design and build. We were fortunate to be teamed a second time with Turner Construction Company’s team, who also built out the previous crisis stabilization unit we designed.
Our collaboration with frequent sub consultants, landscape architect KTU+A and MEP engineers Turpin & Rattan, also paid off. And kudos to this project’s LEED consultant, Doo Consulting – LEED Gold certification came through for the Oceanside Crisis Stabilization Unit without a single hitch.
We commend the vision and guidance of the County and want to give a shout-out to its project manager, Project Management Advisors.
Our whole team was inspired by the chance to positively impact a sector of society that’s hurting.
If you or someone you know is looking for mental health or substance use services, call the San Diego Access & Crisis Line (ACL) at 1-888-724-7240 or visit this website for more information.
Watch San Diego County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher talk about Oceanside Crisis Stabilization Unit and the County’s efforts to build a better program for behavioral health services.