June 22, 2018
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Old Town health care center finishes overhaul of century-old former school building

By Nick McCrea, BDN Staff

OLD TOWN, Maine — Staffers at the Helen Hunt Health Center in Old Town showed off the newly renovated building Tuesday, saying the redone facility will be more accessible and save patients money.

Penobscot Community Health Care reopened the 109-year-old building, which once housed the Helen Hunt School, in 2008. Several employees at the health center said they once walked the halls as elementary or middle school students.

The $450,000 in renovations and new equipment are part of the health center’s push to become a “one-stop shop” for health care where people can do everything from getting an X-ray to receiving psychiatric care to having their teeth cleaned, according to Dr. Chris Buck, a family practice physician at the health center.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture funded $250,000 for the updates through grants, according to Penobscot Community Health Care CEO Kenneth Schmidt.

The update has allowed the pharmacy and walk-in care clinic to move to the ground floor, which once housed the lunch room for staff and a meeting room.

The expanded walk-in care service should save patients money by giving them an option other than visiting the emergency room, which can be costly, Buck said.

The clinic is open every day, with hours from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

“No one plans an emergency or an illness,” walk-in care director George Case said Tuesday. “But when an illness strikes a loved one, you want easily accessible health care.”

A revamped pediatrics clinic is located on the second floor. It’s designed to keep kids relaxed and ease the trauma that can sometimes be associated with a visit to the doctor’s office.

Rooms are decorated with cartoon characters from “Toy Story,” “Winnie the Pooh,” “Cars” and other popular children’s movies and shows.

Despite the changes, hints of the century-old school building’s past are still in view. Exposed brick and creaky floorboards are still focal points in the design. The original arched brick entryways are now inside the building, which has expanded over the years.

On a second-floor door that now holds a computer services room, the word “PRINCIPAL” is still legible but faded with age.

Schmidt said it was important to preserve the building’s character and to keep the history of the facility in mind while renovations were under way.

Patients who once attended the school frequently point out rooms that they recognize as their former classrooms, he said.

The health center’s new facilities will better serve the 9,000 or so primary care patients that come through the doors, according to Dr. Chris Ritter, a 30-year medical practitioner in the Old Town area.

“We’re going to be able to serve people better than we ever have,” Ritter said.

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