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Construction Underway for New Martin Luther King, Jr. Behavioral Health Center in South Los Angeles

Martin Luther King, Jr. Behavioral Health Center

The design-build renovation of the former Martin Luther King, Jr./Drew Medical Center preserves the original five-story building, with the first phase scheduled to be complete in October 2020.

As one of the first facilities of its kind, the 500,000-sq.-ft. Martin Luther King, Jr. Behavioral Health Center (BHC) in Willowbrook will integrate inpatient, outpatient and supportive services for some of the area’s most vulnerable and underserved populations, including those living with mental illness, substance use disorders and homelessness. It will be the first facility in Los Angeles County to bring together so many different but related services. It will replace the former Martin Luther King, Jr./Drew Medical Center on the Martin Luther King, Jr. Medical Campus.

Bernards is leading the construction and HOK is leading the design, in partnership with Los Angeles County Public Works.

Award-winning African-American architect Paul Revere Williams designed the original Martin Luther King, Jr./Drew Medical Center, which opened to provide the Watts-Willowbrook community with improved healthcare in the wake of the 1965 Watts uprising. Though the building closed in 2007, the surrounding medical campus has since grown to include the MLK Community Hospital, Outpatient Center, Recuperative Care Center and several other healthcare facilities.

Championed by Los Angeles County Second District Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, the new MLK Behavioral Health Center will house clinical and behavioral staff to provide mental and public health services, as well as workforce, diversion and reentry services.

“When the old hospital shut its doors, few could have imagined this building would have a meaningful second act,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas. “And yet we are moving forward with a vision of renewal, transformation and innovation. When this building reopens as the Martin Luther King, Jr. Behavioral Health Center, it will provide so many people with much needed healing, hope and the promise of a better future.”

The design creates a warm and nurturing “one-stop-shop” that emphasizes a sense of belonging, self-respect and healing. The project upgrades various building systems, provides exterior facade and site improvements, refreshes the building and entrance canopy, and repurposes the building’s rooftop and courtyards for recreational use. Beyond improving the lives of individual patients, the design and programming also address community health, providing a peer resource center and conference rooms for public use.

“It’s wonderful for all of us on the Bernards-HOK design-build team to have the opportunity to use what we do every day as contractors, designers, architects and engineers to build something that will immediately have a positive impact in Los Angeles County,” said Mike Funderberg, vice president at Bernards. “The new Martin Luther King, Jr. Behavioral Health Center is a strong commitment by the County to address the needs of our community relative to mental health services by providing them in a centralized location. Our team is proud to design and build such a project that will provide the right care in the right way at the right time to avert mental health crises and continue the hard work of ensuring everyone in L.A. County can be part of our vibrant community in a meaningful way.”

By preserving the original five-story building, the renovation reduces demolition and construction costs, as well as the amount of embodied carbon associated with new construction. The design is targeting LEED-Silver certification. Improvements to the building’s heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) and mechanical, engineering and plumbing (MEP) systems will increase energy and water-use efficiency. Solar power generated on the site will reduce the center’s reliance on the local energy grid.

“HOK understands the critical need to provide access to behavioral health treatment in an outpatient and residential setting to promote recovery success,” said Hunvey Chen, regional leader of Healthcare at HOK. “The Martin Luther King, Jr. Behavioral Health Center will provide a safe, home-like environment for integrated County services. As neighbors in the community, we are thrilled to team with Los Angeles County, Bernards and the entire design-build team on the reuse of this healthcare facility to expand the continuum of care.”

Construction site mobilization began in January 2020. Phase I of the project is scheduled to be completed in October 2020, with completion of Phase II scheduled for June 2021.

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