Health & Medicine

Demolition begins so new public health clinic can be built on Southland Drive

Employees with Superior Demolition, Inc., including Paul Sharp, left, Ricky Wright who was operating the excavator, and Justin Pleus, who was using a water hose to dampen the dust, have started the demolition of the buildings at 496 and 498 Southland Dr. to make room for a new HealthFirst public health clinic in Lexington, Ky., Tuesday, August 12, 2014. HealthFirst, a nonprofit, serves about 15,000 patients a year at a clinic at 650 Newtown Pike. That clinic will continue to operate when the Southland location opens. Photo by Charles Bertram | Staff
Employees with Superior Demolition, Inc., including Paul Sharp, left, Ricky Wright who was operating the excavator, and Justin Pleus, who was using a water hose to dampen the dust, have started the demolition of the buildings at 496 and 498 Southland Dr. to make room for a new HealthFirst public health clinic in Lexington, Ky., Tuesday, August 12, 2014. HealthFirst, a nonprofit, serves about 15,000 patients a year at a clinic at 650 Newtown Pike. That clinic will continue to operate when the Southland location opens. Photo by Charles Bertram | Staff Herald-Leader

With the roaring crescendo of Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture ringing in his ears, Dr. Rice Leach enthusiastically pumped his arm and hollered, "Yesssss!" as the demolition began.

It's been four years since Leach, Fayette County's health commissioner, announced an $11.7 million federal grant to build a new public health clinic. On Tuesday, Leach and a handful of others celebrated as demolition began on the clinic site on Southland Drive. Leach had pre-recorded the music just for the occasion.

About a dozen yellow bricks from the two buildings that are coming down at 496 Southland were set aside as souvenirs. Dr. Deborah Stanley, HealthFirst medical director, took one. She smiled non-stop as the walls came down.

Soon construction will begin and when the clinic opens in October 2015 it will serve about 20,000 patients a year, she said.

Demolition has been a long time coming because the project has been mired in controversy. Since it was announced in 2010, previous health commissioner Dr. Melinda Rowe and former HealthFirst Bluegrass executive director William North were both forced to resign; the boards of HealthFirst and the Fayette-County Health Department feuded and were rebuilt with new members; State Auditor Adam Edelen investigated the land deal that brought the clinic to Southland and federal regulators watched from afar as deadline after deadline to spend the money passed.

Work on Southland Drive stalled in January 2013 so the historic value of the properties could be determined.

HealthFirst Bluegrass, an independent non-profit, will operate the clinic while Leach and his staff at the Lexington Fayette County Health Department will concentrate on its core missions of disease control and prevention, restaurant inspections and enforcing laws like the smoking ordinance.

"This is a big day," said HealthFirst Bluegrass executive director Dr. Steve Davis. "This is a big day for us and a big day for Lexington. I just want to thank everybody who helped us get here."

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