Construction delays and a lack of money are slowing the opening of an innovative new health care facility in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.
Lu’s Pharmacy For Women, created by a team of UBC architecture students, is intended to change the way pharmacies work in Canada’s poorest postal code.
The aim is to replace the dingy methadone dispensaries common in the area with bright, accessible services directed at improving women’s health.
“We thought it would all be done this summer, but now, we’ve had to rework our thinking,” third-year architecture student Idette de Boer said.
Over the past year and a half, the architecture students have raised $41,800 using the website GiveMeaning.com. They applied to Vancity on behalf of Lu’s Pharmacy and received a $50,000 grant. The City of Vancouver kicked in an additional $25, 000.
Lu’s was scheduled to open in September, but, with construction costs rising and difficulty finding enough volunteer labour, the pharmacy is still not open for business.
“The process of accumulating volunteers, contractors, money and having this massive group process has made the timelines so unpredictable,” student Magali Bailey said.
In order to speed up the project, the students have decided to work overtime hours in the woodworking shop, act as public relations officers and organize fundraisers.
“This is the first time we, the architecture school, have dealt with such an extensive project,” says UBC architecture professor Inge Roecker about the extra time and work her students have put into Lu’s.
“Normally we do the design but that’s it; it gets passed on.”
This project has turned in to a lesson in patience for the students. It is particularly frustrating, because of what they believe Lu’s can do for the area.
Roecker describes the project as “urban acupuncture.” The idea is to inject a new vitality to the area in order to create an atmosphere of wellness.
She hopes it will lead to the permanent revitalization of the 100-year-old building. She wants to create a new development without alienating the community that already lives there.
“Inserting energy in one point can create so much new energy radiating outwards that things start to change,” Roecker said.
She came up with the idea in April 2006 after researching how women were uncomfortable accessing health services in the area.
Duncan says there’s an urgent need for women, including those Simon Fraser University students who will soon be using the nearby Woodward’s building, to have their own space where they can receive health care information.
“We know from the community clinics down here—there are two community clinics run by Vancouver Coastal Health—that the majority of their patients are men,” Duncan says.
“Women are not accessing the community clinics in this area and it’s for a reason. They don’t feel safe. We hope to open a door to their improved health.”
But Lu’s Pharmacy, named after 80-year-old VWHC volunteer Lucette Hanson, isn’t just about helping women in the Downtown Eastside.
It’s about creating a domino effect and encouraging other projects of the same nature.
That is a concept Jay Dargatz buys in to. He is the owner of local firm Canstar Restorations. When he heard about the Lu’s project he offered his services for free.
“This is an opportunity to give back to the community … specifically to a community that is in desperate need of revitalization and services,” he says.
Hart & Tipton Construction is also contributing. They are building the glass façade of the pharmacy. Company partner Jason Hart says he is doing it for the cause, but he is also doing it for the students.
“It was interesting for me to be involved in it because I knew the UBC architectural school was involved,” Hart said. “I thought it would have some merit and it was an opportunity to exchange ideas.”
Despite the hard process and setbacks, students are still optimistic that they can complete Lus’s and do this sort of project again. When de Boer thinks about the new completion date – set for January 2009 – she said “sees the possibility for more.
“Ooh, that kind of gave me goosebumps,” the student says.