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G. James Benoit

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March 17, 2008
WEST COUNTY - Clinic eyes new site for center
By Joshua Stewart, Staff Writer

The People's Community Health Center in Severn has chosen a site for a new, bigger facility that local activists said is decades overdue.

The Baltimore-based nonprofit group that runs the center has signed a contract to buy property just a few blocks away from its current location on Reece Road, said Patrick Smith, spokesman for the community health center. He said the new location also could include a community center. 

Mr. Smith said the center is planning for a facility that's about 6,000 square feet, but officials aren't sure how much that will cost.

The 2-acre lot is being sold through the Lowman Group, part of Remax Realty, Mr. Smith said. Details on who owns the lot or how much it sold for weren't available.

A new building would replace the 1,200 square foot center at 1140 Reece Road where a cadre of staff doctors, nurses and assistants handle about 3,000 visits a year in a space not much larger than a townhouse. The center's operators also considered a parcel near Van Bokkelen Elementary School.

"Our clinic is definitely bursting at the seams," Mr. Smith said.

The clinic serves an area that's considered "medically underserved," and opened in April 2004 with a $350,000 federal grant. At the time it opened, nearly 51 percent of residents along

Pioneer Drive, the main street through the area, fell below the poverty level and 15 percent of the population was uninsured.

The primary interest is in new space for its services - primary care, women's health, substance abuse, mental health and dentistry - but a community center with education courses, children's health care and other programs would be an added benefit, Mr. Smith said.

Residents of public housing in Pioneer City, Meade Village and other nearby neighborhoods have worked for a community center for 20 years but haven't gained much momentum or support from Annapolis.

Now, it has the backing of county councilmen Daryl Jones and Jamie Benoit and support from County Executive John R. Leopold through his community services specialist, Mark Chang, said Lewis Bracy of Hanover, a longtime community activist.

"They have at least brought it to the table," Mr. Bracy. "Their predecessors only gave lip service."

Mr. Benoit and Mr. Jones have said they are working for a zoning change needed to build the new center.

Neighborhoods near the existing clinic include high crime areas and open-air drug markets.

Mr. Bracy said in the past 15 years, crime in the community has cost $15 million in police, legal fees and incarceration expenses. This price tag could have been slashed if offenders had been given positive opportunities instead, Mr. Bracy said.

"They have said they would rather spend a million dollars a year on police services rather than $200,000 or $300,000 on community services," he said.

An expanded health clinic is needed, but a new community center would bring a cache of added benefits as well, said Glenda Gathers, an neighborhood activist in the Still Meadows community of Severn.

There isn't much in the area, it is becoming increasingly difficult to keep teenagers busy and away from crime, she said.

Known as Ms. G, she runs a Saturday-night movie for kids at a community pool. But this year, her projector isn't working.

"We lost so many kids," Ms. Gathers said. "They are dropping out of school at an alarming rate. Where are the examples and who gives a good care about the kids?"

It is important for this center to be built now more than ever because of tens of thousands of jobs coming to Severn's neighbor, Fort George G. Meade, he said.

Besides the center, which would provide health services, other organizations like the Boys & Girls Club could run activities at community center part of the facility, said Mr. Jones, D-Severn.

Staff Writer Allison Bourg contributed to this story.


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