McDonald House receives zoning approval

Feb. 23, 2012, 2:53 a.m.

The Ronald McDonald House at Stanford is moving forward with plans to double the size of its facilities following rezoning approval from the Palo Alto City Council on Feb. 13. The proposed three-story building will add around 46,000 square feet of floor area and enough rooms for 68 additional families every night. The House currently accommodates 47 families and operates at capacity nearly every night.


McDonald House receives zoning approval
Stanford's Ronald McDonald House, amid plans to expand onto an adjacent property, received rezoning approval from the Palo Alto City Council. The House will more than double its capacity to shelter families of children being treated at Lucille Packard Children's Hospital. (ALISA ROYER/The Stanford Daily)

The prospective property, which Palo Alto previously classified as a “Landscape Reserve area,” is vacant except for a pedestrian path, according to the Palo Alto City Council staff report. The lot is adjacent to the current Ronald McDonald House at 520 Sand Hill Road.


The Palo Alto City Council rezoning initiation was just the first step of a complex approval process that the House must undergo before construction on the new facilities can begin. The House’s development director Linda Lyon said the House hopes to begin construction by next spring, although the timing is uncertain.


“This will allow for them to start generating the planning process for the expansion of the Ronald McDonald House,” City Council Member Nancy Shepard said of the rezoning approval. “[But] we haven’t approved, of course, any plans to build.”


The Ronald McDonald House at Stanford offers housing and support to the families of children with life-threatening illnesses who are receiving specialized treatment at the Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital of the Stanford Medical Center. One of 315 worldwide, the House allows parents to stay near their children while they are undergoing treatment and strives to provide a strong sense of community for patients and their families.


However, because the demand for space has dramatically increased over the last 10 years, the House must reject thousands of requests every year. Lyon said that the number of housing requests has increased because of innovations in life-saving technologies, particularly for children. Patients who used to be considered terminal are now being treated and are recovering.


Now, the average stay is about 24 nights, as compared with six nights in 2002. According to Lyon, the organization turned away an average of 10 to 20 families every night in 2010, and the number is expected to rise with the upcoming expansion of the Children’s Hospital, to be completed by Dec. 2016.


“[We have] better medical technology treating sicker kids,” Lyon said. “[And] we are seeing that a lot of patients are being treated on an outpatient basis for conditions that used to require inpatient stays.”


“Keeping their family members close, including their siblings, for some duration of time is important,” she added.


Although the current building plans have been in development since this fall, the development team at the Ronald McDonald House has been considering expansion for over six years, Lyon said.


To analyze future need, the team worked with a third-party medical strategic planning company in partnership with the Hospital. The House projected a need for 65 to 70 more rooms to accommodate outpatient demand; once the new facilities are built, Lyon said they hope that they won’t have to turn anyone away.


The increase in the number of families staying at the House at any one time will also increase the need for volunteers.


“Our expectation would be that we would need to probably double the number of volunteers to staff the new House,” Lyon said. “We would need significant support from Stanford and the community.”


In the current facility, the organization uses over 150 volunteers every week, which saves the House about $300,000 in labor costs, according to Lyon.


Lyon noted that the House’s current operations will continue regardless of the plans for expansion.


“[Expansion] is definitely underway, and it is such a valuable and needed project that it will definitely move forward,” she said. “Our main, core service is providing the home away from home — it’s our housing. That, of course, will continue.”

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