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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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East Central Community center undergoing expansion, remodel; dental clinic planned

The East Central Community Center is nearing the end of a remodeling and expansion project, but that isn’t the only change coming to the campus at Fifth Avenue and Stone Street.

CHAS has plans to break ground on a dental clinic just to the south of the center this spring.

The community center is managed by the Martin Luther King Jr. Center and includes a SNAP office, a WIC office and a food bank. The MLK Center has traditionally offered an early learning program and before- and after-school care for children, and the new space at the community center will allow those programs to expand, said MLK Center Director Freda Gandy.

“We have basically built an early learning center,” she said.

Expanding children’s programs

The early learning programs used to cater to children ages 3 and up but now the center will be able to serve children as young as 1 year old, Gandy said. The center will offer early Head Start and the Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program in addition to before- and after-school care.

The ECEAP program is different from traditional child care, Gandy said. It’s designed for low-income children, and the goal is to get children ready for kindergarten by removing barriers. Those barriers can include lack of access to medical and dental care, she said.

The center has added 5,000 square feet on the southwest corner of the building and an old 2,000-square-foot garage on the west side has been renovated into two preschool rooms that will house an additional 40 children. The new addition includes five more classrooms.

“We’re increasing the number of children we serve,” she said.

Gandy said she wanted to expand the early learning programs so they could have a larger impact on the community. There is a waiting list, and the program attracts families from all over Spokane because of its cultural diversity.

The MLK Center partnered with the Community Colleges of Spokane, which operates Head Start facilities all over Spokane, to pay for the project.

“This community did not have an early Head Start program,” she said. “It’s a great partnership. It just goes back to our goal of making the community center a resource.”

Part of the construction includes an office for a social worker, a back entrance on the west side for child care families and a new play yard.

Construction began seven months ago and is expected to wrap up in the next week or two, but for now the banging and other noise associated with the project continues. Gandy said she’s had to shift people around to make things work during the project.

“To provide services like it’s a normal day has been difficult, but we pulled it off,” she said. “It’s going to be great when it’s done.”

Gandy said it seems only fitting that the expansion is being completed this year. “2020 is the year the Martin Luther King Center is celebrating 50 years of service to the community,” she said. “This is what it’s all about.”

Dental clinic to be built

There’s a building just south of the community center that housed a Head Start program years ago until the roof fell in. Plans call for that building to be torn down to add parking for the new CHAS dental clinic, which will be built in an empty field just south of the old Head Start building.

Gandy said she anticipates the community center’s clients will make use of the dental clinic. “We’re superexcited to partner with CHAS and have a dental clinic here,” she said.

The 4,000-square-foot building that will house the dental clinic will be built by the city of Spokane, and CHAS will rent it, said Lindsey Ruivivar, CHAS director of external affairs. Most of the $1.2 million in funding is coming from a state grant, Community Development Block Grant funding and a Spokane Investment Pool loan that will be repaid with the money CHAS pays for rent.

CHAS is responsible for buying the dental equipment for the building and recently received word that grants from the federal Health Resources and Services Administration and the Health Sciences and Services Authority of Spokane County will cover the entire $420,000 cost.

A groundbreaking ceremony for the dental clinic was held in October, and the project is expected to go out to bid this month. Construction will begin as soon as the weather allows, Ruivivar said.

The expanded community center and new dental clinic are not the only changes coming to the neighborhood. The East Side Library, located next to the community center, will relocate to nearby Liberty Park. The city of Spokane is also hoping all the building projects will be a catalyst for other improvements under the Fifth Avenue Initiative, said assistant planner Maren Murphy.

Looking toward future projects

The city has been having numerous stakeholder meetings in the neighborhood to discuss improvements to Fifth Avenue between Liberty Park and Thor/Freya. It’s a process that began years ago and recently restarted.

“It’s a reboot of an ongoing conversation,” Murphy said. “It’s been going for a long time.”

Previous community meetings led to some sidewalk improvements and the addition of street lighting and landscaping. “There’s been some streetscape improvements along Fifth Avenue, mostly in the small retail area,” she said. “There’s still a desire to see those improvements continue.”

Murphy said the city intends to continue to collaborate with residents and come up with a list of possible improvement projects.

“The goal now is to get a more strategic vision,” she said. “We’ll be distilling this down to actionable items.”

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