LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – Many believe the closure of Franklin Elementary hurt their Little Rock neighborhood, but a nonprofit plans to use the empty building to heal it.

Community Health Centers of Arkansas (CHCA) bought the school to transform it into a health care complex.

“This particular model that we’ve created does not exist here, where everything is housed up under one,” said CEO LaShannon Spencer.

Franklin was one of four schools the Little Rock School District shut down at the end of the last school year to cut operating expenses.

In fall 2018, the four-wing building will open as a one-stop shop for primary, dental and vision care.

Spencer said neighborhood organizations like Forever Care could house its claims and call center there, while colleges and universities could offer training and certification opportunities.

“We’re looking at public-private partnerships to help address and eliminate health disparities in Franklin but also the surrounding communities,” she said. “There are facilities not too far from here that do offer health care services free of charge or on a sliding scale, but we’re truly looking to build upon that and to foster those collaborative relationships.”

Spencer also plans to create a community advisory board.

“Where community members will truly have a say in what goes on here within the facility,” she said. “This building, it’s the anchor of the community.”

That’s why CHCA doesn’t plan to change much. The basketball courts, a historical bench, even the Franklin Elementary crest will stay.

“It’s been here for a very, very long time,” said Jessie Smith. “I did raise my children here. I lived here for 32 years.”

Smith was a substitute teacher and bus driver for the school. She hoped her grandchildren would go there.

“I just hate to see that that school is closed down,” she said. “That kind of hurt the community.”

But upon hearing it would become a health care complex, Smith’s spirits lifted, believing that kind of change could do her old neighborhood good.

“It progresses when you put something in action for the progression,” she said.

CHCA will move its headquarters to the new site in the spring.


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