Rock City donates $300,000 for outdoor 'secret garden' at new children's hospital [photos]

Rock City donates $300,000 for outdoor 'secret garden' at new children's hospital [photos]

May 20th, 2017 by Tim Omarzu in Business Around the Region

Some of the design concepts for the second-floor, outdoor secret garden at the new outpatient children's hospital being built by Erlanger Health System.

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

Gallery: Rock City donates $300,000 for outdoor 'secret garden' at new Erlanger Children's Hospital

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An 1891 steam locomotive, hang gliders and a tow truck will be among the Chattanooga-centric features on display at the new Erlanger Children's Hospital to make it less scary for kids to visit.

Add a rooftop, tree house-themed "secret garden" to the list of distinctive attributes at the $40 million outpatient hospital at East Third and Palmetto streets that will have its groundbreaking on June 6.

The garden will be funded by a $300,000 donation from See Rock City Inc. and Rock City Gardens that was announced Friday in conjunction with the 85th birthday of the Lookout Mountain tourist attraction.

"This is our single largest investment in our community," said Susan Harris, president and CEO of See Rock City Inc. at a news conference to announce the gift.

Located on the second floor of the new hospital and highly visible from East Third Street, the garden will be a place where parents and kids can "leave their anxiety and leave their stress," said Don Mueller, CEO of Erlanger Children's Hospital.

The garden — which won't have any real plants because of concerns about kids' allergies and the difficulties of gardening in a hospital environment — will be designed by a team of three Chattanooga-based firms: elemi architects, whose projects include The Terminal Brewhouse; PlayCore, which makes playground equipment; and Branch Technology, a startup 3D printing business.

The garden is still in the conceptual stage, said Lauren Dunn, a project manager and designer for elemi architects, but it could have interactive art elements, such as an art wall and pinwheels for visitors to spin.

"We're trying to think of ways to engage everybody," Dunn said.

Branch Technology's 3D robot-arm printers can make just about any shape, she said.

Erlanger hired Bruce Komiske as its vice president of new hospital design and construction to help build the new children's hospital.

Komiske has spent his career building children's hospitals around the country, including the 23-story Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital in Chicago that he said is the "tallest in the country."

Komiske's trademark is to add fun, local touches at each hospital. For example, Chicago's Shedd Aquarium donated fiberglass sculptures of a humpback whale mother and her calf to hang inside the entrance of Lurie Children's Hospital.

A steam locomotive, on permanent loan from the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum will stand outside the entrance to Erlanger Children's Hospital, while the interior will feature such decorations as hang gliders used to fly off Lookout Mountain, and a tow truck donated by the International Towing & Recovery Hall of Fame and Museum.

"You don't want a generic hospital," Komiske said. "These are fun things that kids like that the community loves to contribute."

So far, the children's outpatient hospital has raised about $32 million toward the $40 million cost of the new hospital, Erlanger official say, through about 28,000 donations, ranging from small checks to an anonymous gift of $4 million. Once the outpatient hospital is built, Erlanger hopes to build an inpatient hospital connected to it that could cost several hundred million dollars.

Contact staff writer Tim Omarzu at or or on Twitter @meetforbusiness or 423-757-6651.