The team at Conrad Gargett’s health and heritage division is revolutionising South Brisbane’s historic Mater Convent into Queensland’s largest and most comprehensive perinatal mental health facility.
Catherine’s House for Mothers, Babies and Families, located at the heart of the Mater Hill campus, was created in response to the pressing need for perinatal mental health support in the region. The facility, which is set to open in early 2023, will be located in the former Convent, a 1920s building that housed the Sisters of Mercy until 2015.
In the words of Sister Angela Mary: “This place has always been a home. My hope is that every mother in need will find her way here and feel welcomed.”
Since 2018, Conrad Gargett has collaborated with Mater Health and the Sisters of Mercy as the principal consultant to bring this vision to life. The project involved balancing the preservation of the building’s heritage with the integration of contemporary building services and meeting current certification requirements. As Architect Claire Bazeley explains, “The building consists of small cellular rooms, which presented challenges in terms of accommodating a Level 6 mental health facility and meeting contemporary expectations for clinical spaces and residential inpatient requirements.”
To overcome these challenges, Conrad Gargett physically simulated typical operational scenarios to determine how beds and equipment could be accommodated and moved within the building. “Bringing actual beds and trolleys into the building allowed us to troubleshoot potential issues,” said Principal of Health, Lada Bodnaruk. “The restriction of narrow corridors in the old building meant we had to be more agile in our approach to movement and workflows.”
The final result is a facility that seamlessly integrates the heritage of the Convent with contemporary design and clinical requirements. The original stained-glass windows, terrazzo flooring, and ornate timber wall panelling have been conserved and refurbished, while new doors and openings have been added with sensitivity to the building’s history. The historic verandas have been enclosed in a manner that retains the original intent of the building, and the three dominant sets of stairs have been immaculately conserved and upgraded to meet modern certification requirements.
The ten accommodation suites in Catherine’s House are designed to feel like homely spaces while meeting high-level clinical requirements. They offer separate lounge areas and an adjoining baby room with a cot and change table. Interaction among mothers and families is encouraged, with group dining, shared lounge areas, and communal baby bathing facilities available, as well as a large secure courtyard for enjoying the outdoors.
The project is near completion and the team feels proud of what has been achieved, “a delivered result that has retained and celebrated the significance of the Convent and will deliver a very meaningful place for post-natal care in South East Queensland,” says Claire.