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A $3-million construction project coming to Wilkinson Boulevard in west Charlotte early next year is a dream that has been in the works for years.
At least since 2015, when Debra Weeks joined the C.W. Williams Community Health Center as its CEO. The Charlotte community health center serves 13,000 people annually, especially low-income patients in medically under-served areas of the city.
And the dream took its first step toward reality in 2018, when the health center received $600,000 from the North Carolina General Assembly for renovations. “They planted that seed of hope,” Weeks said in a recent interview.
Now, the CW Williams Community Health Center is launching plans to tear down its main location at 3333 Wilkinson Blvd. and put up a new building at that site.
“Needless to say, it’s a dream come true,” Weeks said. “We recognize the faith and the trust that the community has in us, that we have been able to get to this place of success, to take this major, major undertaking... You can’t do this without community trust.”
A community institution in Charlotte
The community health center has served Charlotte residents for 40 years. And the Wilkinson Boulevard building is more than 80 years old.
The center uses just 8,000 to 9,000 square feet of the building’s 14,000 square feet, Weeks said. The other spaces are unusable — blocked off for storage or leaking water.
CW Williams started a waterproofing project on the building in September 2020. But assessments of the building showed there were too many issues for renovations, including outdated electrical and plumbing equipment, window systems and HVAC equipment, according to CW Williams spokeswoman Kelly Hurley.
So the community health center is embarking on the $2.9-million project to tear down and rebuild its headquarters.
Teardown will likely start in February, Weeks said. And the construction project is scheduled to finish by March 2023 — although there could be coronavirus-related delays.
Expansion underway for CW Williams
In the meantime, CW Williams began moving much of its operations to a new location at 5800 Old Pineville Road three weeks ago, Weeks said.
The 5800 Old Pineville Road location, an 8,000-square-foot space, will operate as a second site for CW Williams after the headquarters rebuild is complete. The health center has signed a 12-year lease at that location, Weeks said.
Medical, pharmacy, behavioral health, case management, and COVID-19 tests and vaccines have already moved to the new location. Dental services will remain at 3333 Wilkinson Blvd. through January, Weeks said.
There’s no room for the dental services at the Old Pineville Road location, but the community health center plans to launch a dental mobile health unit next month. That will bring CW William’s mobile units to two — the dental one, which launches Nov. 11, and a medical one, which launched in 2019.
Patients can book transportation from the Wilkinson Boulevard location to the Old Pineville Road site if needed, Weeks said.
And she wants to make sure west Charlotte residents know the community health center isn’t leaving.
“I want to allay fears that we’re going away,” Weeks said. “We’re not going away. (ZIP) 28208 — we have been in this community for 40 years thanks to Dr. CW Williams … and we really want the community to understand that we’re not going anywhere.”
The community health center was founded in 1981 by Williams and several other community health activists, including Rowe “Jack” Motley, the first African-American Mecklenburg County commissioner.
Williams was the first African-American surgeon on staff at Charlotte Memorial Hospital (now Atrium Health Carolinas Medical Center), according to the community health center.
Plans for the future
Plans for the new 15,000-square-foot two-story building on Wilkinson Boulevard include a community garden, a demonstration kitchen, parking under the building, a drive-thru pharmacy and a food pantry.
The current Wilkinson Boulevard building also housed a food pantry. But the location at 5800 Old Pineville Road is too small for a food pantry.
Weeks is hoping the community health center’s food non-profit partners will be able to bring food to that location once or twice a week.
The new space will be more open-concept than the current Wilkinson Boulevard location, Weeks said. The community health center has not yet released renderings of plans for the new building.
The community health center already has more than $2.1 million set aside for the $2.9 million project, mostly in federal funding. Weeks hopes to secure additional federal funding so the community health center only needs to take out a small loan.
“We’re building this facility for the community, and they deserve it,” Weeks said. “They deserve a safe, clean, structurally sound, aesthetically pleasing facility.”
Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated the amount the center has set aside for the project. CW Williams has more than $2.1 million for the work.