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Building to be razed for clinic; Abortion services have drawn protests.

Byline: Nick Kotsopoulos

WORCESTER - Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts, which has operated a health center in the city since 1982, will be moving into a larger, more centrally located facility to be built on Pleasant Street, near Park Avenue.

A two-story medical office building at 470 Pleasant St. will be razed to make way for a new three-story building.

Planned Parenthood officials said the new facility is needed to meet the growing need for sexual and reproductive health care in the region. They said the relocation will also allow Planned Parenthood to enhance its educational programs and advocacy in Central Massachusetts.

"(Planned Parenthood) has a long history of providing important health care services in Massachusetts, and specifically in the city of Worcester," said Jackie Mansfield-Marcoux, director of the organization's Central Massachusetts Health Center. "We had more than 10,000 patient visits to our Worcester health center last year, the vast majority of which were for preventive care, such as gynecological exams and contraception.

"Community demand for our services continues to grow, and building this health center will allow us to meet that demand in a more convenient location." she said.

Planned Parenthood operates a reproductive health care center on the upper end of Lincoln Street, near the Shrewsbury line, that is a frequent target of anti-abortion protesters. Officials with the organization have said the move to the new site is being driven by a need for more and higher-quality space closer to public transportation.

In May, Planned Parenthood purchased the property at 470 Pleasant St. with the intention of renovating the existing 33,000-square-foot medical building and constructing a 646-square-foot addition in the rear of the building.

The Planning Board had unanimously approved the parking lot plan for Planned Parenthood's future Pleasant Street home, based on those plans. But Planned Parenthood officials had to go back before the Planning Board last night seeking approval for an amendment to the original parking-lot plan.

Todd Rodman, a local lawyer representing Planned Parenthood, said the organization decided to have the existing medical office building on the site demolished so it can be replaced with a three-story building that will incorporate many "green building elements" - the use of recycled materials and energy-saving techniques.

But construction of the new building made changes necessary in the previously-approved parking lot plans, he said.

Mr. Rodman said city zoning requires at least 41 off-street parking spaces for the project. He said the reconfigured parking lot will have 47 spaces, which is three more parking spaces than what was called for in the original plans. The existing parking lot will also be repaved, he said.

In addition, Mr. Rodman said access to the parking lot will be restricted to Dewey Street, which runs off Pleasant Street. He said the curb cut on Pleasant Street that also provides access to the parking lot will be eliminated.

Mr. Rodman said the internal traffic circulation of the new parking lot will be an improvement over what exists.

No one spoke in opposition to the amended parking-lot plan, which was the only aspect of the project before the Planning Board. Under the city's zoning, medical clinics are an allowed use in that area.

District 4 City Councilor Barbara G. Haller, whose district includes the Pleasant and Dewey streets area, said the new building will be a substantial upgrade aesthetically for the neighborhood. She said it has the support of neighborhood residents and business owners.

Stephen T. Patton, executive director of Worcester Common Ground Inc., also spoke in support of the changes.

He said his organization owns properties in the area and is an abutter to the Pleasant Street site.

In a prepared statement, Diane Luby, president and chief executive officer of Planned Parenthood, said her organization will continue its commitment to strengthen the community fabric of Worcester.

"We will continue to work collaboratively with a broad coalition of schools, organizations, parents, clergy and policymakers to encourage and promote strong families in the heart of the commonwealth," Ms. Luby said.

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Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Feb 21, 2008
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