If the Pence Automobile Company building had been a patient, its chart might have read “critical.”
When completed in 1920, the handsome Classical Revival-style building boasted three stories and glazed brick with cream-colored terra-cotta trim. It was described at the time as “the best automobile sales and service building in the Northwest.”
But after decades of use as an automobile showroom, a tire store, a tractor-equipment store, an appliance shop and a printing plant, many of its original architectural details had been obscured by age and numerous renovations. Its large windows had been removed and filled with plywood, insulation and Sheetrock to better suit its one-time function as a commercial printer. The adjoining buildings, which are 15 to 20 years older than the Pence, were so decrepit that tenants worried about stepping through the floor boards on the second story.
In 2007, Kilbourne Group purchased the former warehouse/showroom and three adjacent buildings to ensure they would be preserved. As founder and chairman of the downtown revitalization group, Doug Burgum is committed to saving historic downtown buildings while infusing them with new vitality and usefulness. The Pence Warehouse, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, seemed to be the perfect candidate for a real-estate resuscitation.
“The relocation of FHC is a great way to preserve and celebrate history, to continue to revitalize downtown Fargo, and most importantly, to help more patients,” says Burgum. “We believe the relocation will have a tremendously positive impact from both community and economic standpoints. To renovate this architecturally sound landmark property into a modern-age health facility is truly inspiring.”
In 2011, Kilbourne Group sold the sturdily built concrete-and-masonry structure and its adjoining buildings to the Family HealthCare Center for $1.4 million. The sale was a win-win proposition for all involved. The former auto warehouse, and the block it occupied, saw the promise of new life. The staff at FHC had a chance to work in bigger, better facilities. And, most importantly, more patients, many of whom are underinsured, uninsured or even homeless, could benefit from FHC’s expanded staff and services.
Indeed, today’s patients don’t need to cram into makeshift, church-basement clinics or crowded waiting rooms to receive health care. Most exam rooms have huge windows, which fill these modern, spacious areas with warm, natural light.
And because the old Pence was restored with historic tax credits, many of its original attributes have been restored to their former glory. That includes wonderful details like terrazzo floors, a pink marble staircase with metal-and-wood balustrade, high ceilings and glazed brick, which was found in the basement and now forms the backdrop behind the clinic’s welcome desk. Michael J. Burns Architects also designed each floor so the building’s poured concrete pillars could be incorporated seamlessly into the floorplan, but not obscured.
Details throughout the building remind visitors of the Pence’s rich history. The gate of an original freight elevator, massive enough to carry cars up to the third floor, has been incorporated into the decor. The antique cover of an old boiler room now serves as a charmingly aged art piece in the center’s registration area.
“It’s so nice to be able to serve patients in a beautiful space,” Kundinger says. “The old clinic was a tired, old, sad space to be.”
FHC outgrows former home
The move to a new facility was long overdue. In the last few years, space limitations prevented FHC staff from treating all the patients who came to the medical clinic. The different services offered by FHC were spread out over different locations, which made it difficult for patients to access when they relied solely on public transportation. The dental clinic had not been able to take on new regular patients for the past two years because of a shortage of space. And FHC’s Homeless Health Services clinic was operating out of a church basement without air conditioning, running water in exam rooms or adequate space for staff offices.
“We were all working on top of each other,” says Samantha Kundinger, FHC’s director of development.
By 2007, FHC staff began dreaming of larger, better facilities to serve patients. “Our patients mean the world to us, and we want to give them the best health care we can,” says Patricia Patron, executive director of FHC.
Tax credits, including those to encourage historic preservation, helped to finance the project. “The expansion began proceeding in 2009 with the announcement of a $6.6 million grant as part of the federal stimulus program,” wrote reporter Patrick Springer in a Dec. 5 edition of The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead.
The relocation to the 56,000-square-foot Pence and adjoining buildings has doubled the center’s available space. The new structure offers 30 medical exam rooms, a full dental clinic with seven chairs, laboratories, optometry services, radiology, behavioral health specialists and an in-house pharmacy. FHC staff estimate their roomier quarters will allow them to serve 23 more patients per day. Annually, that adds up to an extra 5,000 people, men, women and children who might not otherwise get help.
The center especially emphasizes preventive care, so services like a teaching kitchen, nutrition counselors, smoking cessation, diabetes education and stress management are offered.
AmeriCorps volunteers work with patients in a small wellness center to teach them how to use the equipment they’d find at any other community fitness facility. It’s a way to make first-time users less hesitant about entering the unfamiliar, sometimes intimidating world of health clubs.
One of FHC’s core beliefs is that access to high-quality healthcare for those who are most vulnerable improves the health of an entire community, Kundinger says.
That includes Cass County’s refugee population, which grows by 383 New Americans per year. To better serve this more diverse patient base, FHC provides professional medical interpreter services in 12 different languages, plus uses volunteer health mentors to help support New American families in their new home settings.
$1 million from finish line
The FHC began serving patients in fall 2012 and held its grand-opening ceremony in early December.
It was a festive, standing-room-only event, replete with city leaders, proud staff and FHC supporters.
“A dream is something you could do. A vision is something you must do,” Patron told the crowd. “Turning a dream to a vision can take a long time. For us, the dream is to have a facility that, in a very respectful way, serves those who struggle most.”
Meanwhile, the FHC’s fundraising is in the home stretch. It has raised $14 million of its $15 million price tag through tax credits, grants and contributions. “Now only about 7 percent needs to be raised to finish it off,” Kundinger says. “With that last $1 million out of the way, we will be able to get back to our mission and doing what we do best: providing affordable, quality healthcare.”
During the open house, Burgum urged onlookers to help the center raise its final $1 million. He reminded the crowd that the center actually saves the community many dollars in the long run. Without FHC’s services, uninsured or underinsured patients often wind up in the emergency room, where they receive the most expensive care possible.
“This organization is sustainable,” he said. “This organization pays for itself. Now we have an opportunity to put them over the finish line.”
To make donations to the Joint Commission-accredited Family HealthCare Center, go to famhealthcare.org or call 701.271.3344.
All photos, except historical image, by John Borge.