San Antonio Children’s Hospital Debuts “Child Life Zone”

The San Antonio Children’s Hospital “Child Life Zone” was Chicago Scenic’s first collaboration with Teammates for Kids—co-founded by country singer Garth Brooks—to develop a therapeutic play, game and relaxation space for children on extended hospital stays.

The new “Zone” opened in Spring 2021 and occupies a 5,000 sq. ft. interior space; it’s created around a river / waterway theme, a reflection of the hospital’s surrounding environment. The result is five distinct interactive areas, from the “Tot Zone” (featuring an interactive Plinko ball wall and accessible row boat), to the “All-Star Lounge” (with costumes and green screen), Microsoft-sponsored Gaming Wall, Adirondack-style club house, and popular selfie photo area. All the interactives invite intuitive play and are designed with layered activities to appeal not only to a wide age group—2-year-olds to teenagers—but also to accommodate various illness levels.

One of the project’s challenges, according to Ross Hamilton, Chicago Scenic’s project director, was developing the Plinko Ball Wall’s deceivingly simple design. “The Plinko interactive required multiple prototypes and hours of testing and recalibrating,” Hamilton said, “to ensure that it works reliably and consistently. Since a variation of the Plinko interactive is a popular component of the UCLA Play Zone as well, our team knew it was crucial to perfect this design for future iterations.”

Other exhibits, like the row boat, presented a different challenge. Made of veneered plywood, the boat Includes an open back to facilitate easy access and accommodate wheelchairs. The boat’s elliptical shape means no square corners—an inherent construction challenge. The result, Hamilton said, is a pleasing addition to the Zone; children can use the boat’s fishing poles or simply relax during an imaginary boat ride.

The start of the Covid-19 pandemic soon after project kick-off brought a handful of unexpected challenges as well: shop production ceased, travel to Texas was suspended at the height of the project, delaying or canceling in-person reviews and approvals; material sourcing was difficult, and soaring material prices negatively affected budget parameters. The Zone opened in Spring 2021, close to a year later than originally planned, due to health and safety considerations.

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