Amherst health center project to begin soon

  • The late John Musante, an Amherst town manager who advocated for a community health center in downtown Amherst. When complete next year, the center on the lower level of the Bangs Community Center will be named after Musante.

Staff Writer
Published: 4/8/2016 8:29:05 PM

AMHERST — Construction of a new health center that will serve the medical, dental and behavioral health needs of people without access to primary care, including low-income residents and undocumented immigrants, should begin this summer.

The John P. Musante Health Center, operated by Hilltown Community Health Center and named after the late town manager who spent time promoting the concept of bringing the facility to downtown Amherst, will use the 4,100-square-foot space in the lower level of the Bangs Community Center, occupied for nearly 40 years by the town’s Leisure Services and Supplemental Education department. LSSE moved last month to the Amherst Regional Middle School.

Eliza Lake, executive director of the Hilltown center, said she recently was given the keys to the space and that Don Hafner, of HAI Architecture Inc. of Northampton, is finalizing plans before selecting a general contractor. 

“In terms of the timeline, we hope to go out to bid in the next month or so, and start renovations in the summer,” Lake said.

Lake, who spoke to the Council on Aging Thursday, said work on space in the building, which is also used by the Amherst Senior Center, will start in June or July and will take about seven months. Time will then be needed to install the medical and dental equipment.

“It’s a complete gut job,” said Lake, noting that March or April 2017 is the likely opening date.

“We're still saying a year from now, roughly,” Lake said. 

There are challenges in outfitting the space for a health center, as each room will need to have water, and the dental chairs require installation of water lines, likely through the existing concrete floors.

The project has a $2.25 million total budget, with $723,000 left to raise. Lake said people can make donations through the Hilltown center’s website at

So far, $1 million has come from the federal Health Resources and Services Administration, $183,000 from community donations, $172,000 from the Hilltown center and $150,000 from Cooley Dickinson Health Care.

When fully operational, the Musante Health Center will have 13 people on staff, including a doctor, a nurse practitioner and a dentist, as well as two registered nurses and two medical assistants.

Lake said her organization is developing a brochure to educate the community about the need for the center, observing that sometimes issues of access to health care are hidden.

“We will see anyone, regardless of their ability to pay,” Lake said.

A local advisory group will oversee operations, with more than half of it made up of patients.

Due to privacy concerns, a large glass wall between the health center and the Glass Room will need to be reconfigured due to patient privacy, raising concerns from Senior Center Director Nancy Pagano that natural light that gets into that room from skylights in the future health center will be blocked off.

Pagano said she hopes the architect can develop a plan that might include using frosted glass or some other material that continues to allow light into the Glass Room, while shielding patients.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at


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