Boise’s Ronald McDonald House must turn some parents away. This would change that

There are nights, fairly frequently, when the Ronald McDonald House in Boise must turn away families seeking a place to stay while their children receive medical care at St. Luke’s Children’s Hospital or through the Saint Alphonsus Health System.

Boise’s Ronald McDonald House — at 101 E. Warm Springs Ave., across from the St. Luke’s campus — can accommodate 17 families at a time in its 14,000 square feet. In years past, that was adequate. Today it is not, said Mindy Plumlee, the charity’s executive director.

As Idaho’s population has increased and more pediatric specialists have established practices in Boise, the need for overnight accommodations has risen. Many patients come from outside the Treasure Valley, including neighboring states.

“On a fairly regular basis, we are full and turning people away, which is really not OK,” Plumlee said in an interview.

That may change soon. Early next year, the Ronald McDonald House plans to break ground on a two-story home with 40,000 square feet that will be able to serve 47 families. The $15 million building at 139 E. Warm Springs Ave. will be built just east of the current Ronald McDonald House, in space now used for St. Luke’s employee parking. Ronald McDonald House is arranging to buy the land from the hospital.

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This drawing prepared by Cole Architects of Boise shows how the Ronald McDonald House proposed at 139 E. Warm Springs Ave. would look. The two-story building would accommodate 47 families while their children receive medical treatment. The current Ronald McDonald House, located steps away, can house 17 families and is often full. Provided by the city of Boise

“It’s important for us to be within walking distance of the children’s hospital,” Plumlee said. “The majority of families that stay with us have children being treated at the children’s hospital, and the majority of them don’t have regular transportation when they get here.”

The Boise Ronald McDonald house is part of a charity established by McDonald’s and is one of 364 across the globe that operate independently. It opened in 1988 inside a home built in 1890 at 101 E. Warm Springs. At the time, the four-bedroom home was the smallest Ronald McDonald House in the world. Two expansions over the years increased the size.

In 2017, Boise’s Ronald McDonald House provided 4,573 nights of lodging to 578 families, according to its annual report. The average stay was nine days, and the house had an occupancy rate of 77 percent. The house spent $1 million serving families.

“Families are able to stay with us as long as they have a need,” Plumlee said. “For some families, that’s one night. Other families could be here for months at a time.”

A medical feasibility study conducted by Ronald McDonald House in conjunction with the two hospital systems found that substantially more housing will be needed in the next five years, Plumlee said.

“If we don’t expand by 2025, which really isn’t that far away, for every three families that needed a place to stay, we would be able to house one,” she said. “For us, it’s all about being able to be there for families and provide an environment of support.”

The new house will have a fenced courtyard, landscaping and parking for 36 vehicles, according to the plan submitted to the city. Construction is expected to begin in February, with the completed building ready to open in January 2020, Plumlee said.

After the new Ronald McDonald House opens, St. Luke’s will take over operation of the existing house, using it for adult patients and their families, hospital spokeswoman Anita Kissee told the Idaho Statesman. The house will be similar to the accommodations provided by the hospital at Heritage House at 109 W. Idaho St.

A public campaign to raise money for the new house will take place next year, with the hospitals, other businesses and individuals to be asked to contribute. Change from drop boxes on counters at McDonald’s restaurants will continue to help pay operating expenses, not the cost of construction.

Most operating expenses are covered by donations from businesses and individuals. Operators of McDonald’s restaurants provide a portion, including a penny from the sale of every children’s Happy Meal.

The proposed building is scheduled to go before the Boise Design Review Committee at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 14, at City Hall.

John Sowell: 208-377-6423, @JohnWSowell.