Pensacola Bay area’s non-profit health center opens new doors in historic Brownsville school after $9 million renovation project.
Escambia Community Clinics, the Pensacola Bay area’s only Federally Qualified Health Center, officially unveiled its rebranding as Community Health Northwest Florida, along with celebrating the official opening of its new main patient care location at 2315 W. Jackson Street in the Brownsville community of Pensacola.
The new Brownsville location at the former Allie Yniestra Elementary School has undergone a year-long renovation, with many of the original elements of the 1930’s era building preserved.
Relocation marks a rare win for historic preservation in west Pensacola
The restoration of the school has been hailed as a success for historic preservation efforts in Pensacola. After being purchased from the Escambia County School District for $675,000 in 2016, the organization utilized a host of funding sources and incentives for the project. Among them, $6.4 million in federal New Market Tax Credits that incentivize redevelopment and investment in low-income communities.
The relocation to Brownsville marks a change for community health center, which was previously headquartered at N. Palafox and Maxwell streets prior to 2014. That building experienced catastrophic flooding on April 29, 2014, with more than two feet of water throughout the 19,000 square foot facility.
Within days, the health center relocated its clinical and administrative activity to West Jordan Street at the Mid Town Professional Office Complex and resumed patient care services for nearly four years while working toward finding a permanent new home.
“The 32505 zip code is actually where most of our patients reside, so we felt like we really needed to be here to serve this community,” said Chandra Smiley, Community Health’s Chief Executive Officer.
The 32505 zip code — which spans roughly from the north shore of Bayou Chico to I-10 between Highway 29 and Highway 90 — is where the most health disparity and where the most challenges to access to healthcare are in Pensacola, according to Smiley.
“Finding this building happened to be one of those blessings — the timing was right for us,” Smiley said.
Built in 1936, Allie Yniestra Elementary has long been a civic landmark in Brownsville. After more than 75 years of operation, the school district opted to close the school as part of a vast effort to shudder schools in low-income neighborhoods.
The closings have resulted in controversy, most notably with the Hallmark School in the Tanyard neighborhood when the school district closed it in 2011. That school, demolished late last year, was largely the victim of “demolition by neglect,” a term used to describe forced demolition of a property due to the property owner’s failure to maintain it. While there are no laws against it in Pensacola, in many municipalities across the country, its practice is faced with legal consequences and heavy fines.
In contrast to the failures to save other historic schools, Smiley said the restoration of Yniestra was gratifying. She said she hopes the project helps spur further investment in the revitalization of Brownsville. As part of the restoration, the health center also made sure subcontractors and companies in Brownsville were given preference to work on the project.
“The project to restore the school went off very well,” said Smiley. “We had a great general contractor, Greenhut Construction and a great architect with Heffernan Holland Morgan Architecture. They really guided us through the process. It was a little scary at first but we were very fortunate. The bones and structure of the building were solid.”
New name, same mission
This new 56,000 square foot health center site offers adult and family primary care, behavioral health and wellness services, optometry, x-ray, laboratory, and patient support services, with a pediatric clinic to be added in the near future. The health center’s main administrative offices are also housed in the new location, along with 14 other primary care offices throughout Escambia and Santa Rosa Counties, including eight pediatric and three dental locations.
“The opening of our new location and the unveiling of our new name and logo are all part of our long range strategic plan,” said Smiley. “We knew the timing had to be just right, and we’re excited to begin the next chapter of our organization—and the new year—with a new name, brand and building that reflects the impact we hope to have on our community’s health in the future, and our broadened reach into the communities that need healthcare services the most.”
With its site in the heart of Brownsville, Smiley said she hopes they can be more than just a place where patients visit an exam room.
“We really want the neighborhood to be engaged,” Smiley said. “We have a community garden and we have an education room that can be offered for meetings and classes. It’s important for us to have an active role in this community.”
So far, Smiley said she’s heard nothing but praise from patients and area residents.
“The feedback we’ve received from the community is that everyone is really excited,” Smiley said. “I think, for once, we finally have a space that honors that care that we provide to the community.”