Children's Center breaks ground on building

Vancouver nonprofit that provides mental health care to low-income children has long had a need for more space

By Scott Hewitt, Columbian social issues & neighborhoods reporter

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Children’s Center, a homegrown Vancouver nonprofit agency that brings mental health care to uninsured and underinsured children, broke ground Wednesday on its new building in east Vancouver.

Dignitaries, supporters and neighbors who turned out weren’t deterred by strong rain during the noontime ceremony.

“Can you imagine the soil being any better prepped for a groundbreaking?” Kelly Love Parker, president of the Children’s Center board and of the Greater Vancouver Chamber of Commerce, quipped from under a canopy where the approximately 40 attendees huddled.

In 1989, executive director Pat Beckett remembered, Children’s Center started up by renting space in a little office on Broadway in downtown Vancouver. It saw 200 children annually.

Today, she said, the agency sees more than 1,600 annually, “and the need continues to grow.” Meanwhile, Children’s Center remains squeezed into a couple of tight downtown rental spaces.

The new site is 1.85 undeveloped acres at 13500 S.E. Seventh St., just south of Mill Plain Boulevard at 136th Avenue. It is just a few blocks east of the new Crestline Elementary School, now under construction after an arson fire destroyed the old building in early 2013.

The new Children’s Center location will be convenient to many more clients than the downtown offices are now, Beckett said. The single-story building will be 15,525 square feet, with 77 parking spaces. There will also be a landscaped therapy garden courtyard. The contractor on the $6.3 million job is Todd Construction. The project is expected to be finished in May 2015.

Funding has come from local foundations and philanthropists, including the Tod and Maxine McClaskey Foundation, the Marilyn Moyer Charitable Trust, Ed and Cherry Shaw, Steve and Jo Marie Hansen, and Steve and Jan Oliva. The project also received $1.2 million from the state Legislature.

After a decade of envisioning and planning the new building, Beckett said: “This is such a joyous occasion for me. This will be a feel-good location for much healing and much love.”

It’s a feel-good location for the neighborhood, too, according to nearby condo resident Jacquie Simonds, who initially organized her neighbors to question the project out of concern about traffic and “the kind of people” it would draw.

In the end, Simonds said, the neighborhood grew closer together and got all its questions answered. “We’re so proud this is going to happen here,” she said. “We’re so impressed with the work being done for these kids. It’s a wonderful thing.”

Brian Willoughby, a Children’s Center board member, said his family has been living with mental illness for years — and even as they’re supported by decent incomes and health insurance, he said, “it’s still the hardest thing in the world.” Imagine how much harder it is, he said, for a parent trying to get mental health care for their child without any of those advantages.

“That’s what this is for,” he said.