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Mattapan hails new health center

$34m building to open in 2012

The Mattapan Community Health Center is slated to leave its cramped quarters for a new, environmentally friendly home four blocks away. The new center will offer additional services. The Mattapan Community Health Center is slated to leave its cramped quarters for a new, environmentally friendly home four blocks away. The new center will offer additional services. (Essdras M Suarez/Globe Staff)
By Martine Powers
Globe Correspondent / August 18, 2011

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Many things about the Mattapan Community Health Center’s new digs excite president and chief executive Azzie Young.

More parking. Bigger waiting rooms. An environmentally friendly, grass-covered roof.

But perhaps most of all, Young said, she cannot wait for the windows.

“Many of you don’t know I’ve been in a double-wide trailer for 15 years,’’ Young said yesterday, referring to the center’s makeshift administrative offices. She spoke to a crowd of almost 100 community members at the site of the health center’s future home on Blue Hill Avenue. “No windows!’’

At a ceremony to celebrate the construction project’s “topping off’’ - the completion of the building’s skeletal structure - community leaders talked about how the new, $34 million facility, slated to open next summer, will improve the lives of Mattapan residents.

“This is the realization of a very powerful vision for our community and for our city,’’ said Charles Yancey, a member of the Boston City Council who addressed the gathering.

During the ceremonies, construction workers hoisted a large steel beam to the top of the structure.

Community leaders, Mattapan residents, and patients of the health center used black permanent markers to cover the steel bar in messages of support, writing: “A dream realized,’’ and “God bless this building.’’

“Putting this beam into place symbolizes the distance we’ve come, and the promise that will be fulfilled when we open our doors in the summer of 2012,’’ Young said.

The new facility will have more than three times the space of the existing health center’s cramped, one-story building four blocks north. There will be twice as many examination rooms and dental rooms.

Sections of the facility will allow the center to provide mammograms, social services, and mental health counseling for the first time.

The ground floor of the building will be leased to Citizens Bank and CVS Pharmacy.

Young said this will be the first pharmacy store in Mattapan Square in more than 30 years.

“Community health centers are anchors for ensuring that we really fight for the health of people in our neighborhoods,’’ said Barbara Ferrer, executive director of the Boston Public Health Commission.

The project is also considered a boon for the local economy: While the Mattapan Community Health Center was the neighborhood’s largest employer before the construction started, the project has provided more than 200 jobs so far, Young said.

The new building will create 44 additional permanent jobs once the center is opened.

The federal stimulus package provided much of the funding for the new center, $11.55 million. In December 2009, the Obama administration announced it was awarding $80 million in federal cash to eight Massachusetts community health centers, to increase jobs and provide improved resources to struggling communities.

“Massachusetts is proud to say we took advantage of every single stimulus dollar we could,’’ said JudyAnn Bigby, state secretary of health and human services.

The building’s architects are trying to garner LEED certification, which recognizes that the building is environmentally friendly and energy efficient.

To that end, lights inside the building will be sensitive to sunlight, dimming or brightening depending on the amount of light streaming in from outside.

Lehms Louis, 10, came to yesterday’s ceremony with his mother, who moved their family from Haiti to Dorchester nine years ago.

Lehms says he comes to the existing community health center often for dental check-ups. Those visits, he said, will be more fun once the new building opens.

“I think it’s going to look something like the picture,’’ Lehms said.

“So then it will look really nice.’’

At the current facility, it was easy to see yesterday why the organization needs a new home. The waiting room was packed. Doctors, nurses, and staff members bumped into one another at every intersection of the narrow hallways.

Temporary offices and labs were created with cubicle walls and crammed into corners.

Looking around the place, Guale Valdez, the health center’s chief financial officer, smiled.

While staffers cannot wait to move to a space where the organization has room to grow - and leave behind the double-wide trailer that houses the administrative offices - Valdez said they take pride in their ability to provide quality care with scant resources.

“We do a lot with very little,’’ he said.

Martine Powers can be reached at mpowers@globe.com.