By Meghan Hall
Becoming Independent (BI), a non-profit community benefit organization, has been helping individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) such as autism, cerebral palsy and Down Syndrome for more than 50 years. As its clientele has continued to grow, BI sought to consolidate its services and revamp its Santa Rosa headquarters to include a unique post-secondary environment and innovative offerings accessible to the IDD community.
“In partnership with HGA, BI is about to turn its aging manufacturing building into a dynamic, multi-dimensional hub for services – one that’s prepared to serve even more of the Bay Area’s 9,000 individuals with IDD,” explained Luana Vaetoe, Becoming Independent’s Chief Executive Officer. “…Beyond addressing the necessary improvements to our existing, aging industrial space, a key project goal is to ensure the new flagship location paves the way for further development of services important to the population the organization serves and our community.”
The new space will total 24,000 square feet. Key spaces will include a 10,000 square foot flexible program space, complete with two retractable, soundproof walls. The walls will be able to divide the space into three, smaller, separated units, and will contain mobile furniture that is easily rearranged to accommodate programs on art, stress management and workplace etiquette, among others.
An event center, as well as a commercial kitchen equipped with restaurant-standard equipment will be included, and provide opportunities to create independent living skills, social engagement and jobs for BI’s clients who work such events. Conference rooms–which can double as classrooms–as well as a fully equipped gym, and offices for BI staff are laid out in the plans. HGA and BI also are working on a 10,000 square foot outdoor garden, which will be connected to the interior of the building through three, full-size glass garage doors.
“…It was our goal to create a space that meets the evolution of the organization’s needs over time by providing the ability to be flexible within a rapidly changing environment,” said HGA Principal Heather Kampa. “The current building that houses BI’s offices and programming space is quiet and virtually unoccupied as of late, given the concern for COVID health and safety…Our shared vision with BI was to utilize this opportunity to provide a new design that optimizes the full range of use for which the building was intended when the organization purchased it.”
The overall design aesthetic is based on the industrial features of the building and schemes often seen in tech start-ups; the building will be open and airy, and leave interesting structures exposed. The project’s materials palette will be “intentional” and “limited” while eliminating “superfluous” materials in an effort to remain streamlined, hygienic and modern. The property’s old vinyl flooring was removed and replaced with existing concrete, and wood-look materials help to accent the main entry. The project team is also looking to maximize natural light, and two-thirds of the building will be wrapped with windows. Support-based and private spaces will be tucked into the building’s core so as not to waste any natural daylight. BI’s brand colors and recognizable graphics will work to finish out and accent the space.
“The clean aesthetic offers a tranquil, calming and customizable environment for Becoming Independent’s varied programming, further supporting the flexibility that is key to the space,” said Vaetoe.
Kampa added, “Every material element has a purpose in supporting BI’s vision and goals. The use of vibrant colors throughout the space nods to BI’s fresh, positive and progressive outlook on life.”
The renovations will be completed mid-2022, according to the project team. Once complete, HGA and BI hope the space will embody their goals for flexible, accessible space and provide a stimulating center for those with IDD, especially in light of challenges posted by COVID-19.
“The pandemic was difficult for all, but especially those with IDD who faced unique difficulties in the wake of it. Isolation is a real concern, and the ability to understand and utilize technology is a challenge for many in this community,” Kampa emphasized. “This project is one of the first of its kind in the post-COVID era and will help continue to support the local community and address issues that have compounded for those with IDD over the last 16 months. This project is a flagship, and HGA is proud to be a part of it.”