BOSTON - Boston Children's Hospital has long been a haven of mercy for children with cancer and other serious illnesses. Now, a hospital executive from Attleboro is working to make it a place for healthy eating, creative cooking and family time, as well.

Shawn Goldrick, the hospital's senior director for patient support services, is working with project manager Paul O'Connor and crews from Suffolk Construction on an $11 million transformation of the hospital's main cafeteria into a model dining space featuring fresh ingredients, antibiotic-free meats and cooking classes for children and adults.

Goldrick says the project, scheduled for completion in June, will be the only one of its kind in health care food service.

"We wanted to create a venue like we never had before," said Goldrick, 41.

The goal is to deliver healthy, appetizing food choices, while encouraging healthy eating. But, parents and children will also have the chance to participate in whipping up their own culinary delights at a new "culinary academy" right in the hospital.

Both parents and children will have the opportunity to participate in special, food-related events in the new space.

Stressed parents of kids receiving long-term treatment will be able to relax at a "parents night out." Young patients will get a chance to get in on the fun by tagging along on kitchen tours and shadowing the robotic servers the hospital uses to deliver meals to rooms.

"It's important to us that we find ways to let the kids be kids and have fun," Goldrick said.

Another major feature of the new dining space will be a first of its kind "Chef's Playground," where guest chefs from around Boston will be able to cook their favorite dishes and conduct demonstrations during the noon meal.

Turning a hospital cafeteria into an epicurean adventureland hasn't been easy.

Originally, the cost of completely tearing out the original dining area, creating temporary facilities and then rebuilding was tabbed at $12 million. But Goldrick and O'Connor partnered with their architect and contractor to come up with an alternative plan credited with saving $1 million in project costs.

Keys to the plan included the use of a "pop-up cafe" and a specialized food truck to substitute for the cafeteria's usual food-serving apparatus on a temporary basis. The hospital lobby was used to provide seating during the transformation.

Goldrick, who received his culinary and management training at Johnson & Wales University, is a veteran foodservice manager who spent years running kitchens and cafeterias in other hospitals and senior care facilities. He originally began working for Children's Hospital as an employee of Sodexo, a food service and maintenance contractor.

Five years ago, he was tapped by the hospital to become its patient support services director in charge of 600 employees who perform food service and hospital cleaning work. Children's cafeteria serves about 5,000 meals and snacks each day to patients and staff.

For Goldrick and his team, the completion of the project is more than an upgrade. When finished, he says, the hospital's dining and cooking space will offer something unduplicated in any hospital cafeteria.

"It's one thing to be great, but it's harder to be the only," he said. "For us, it's a little bit like the Super Bowl."

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