Patients, parents, employees and public officials gathered at the Scottish Rite Clinic for Childhood Language Disorders on Wednesday to watch the clinic break ground on what will become its new building in downtown Duluth.
The new building, set to open in 2016 adjacent to the present clinic structure on West Second Street, will allow the clinic to provide state-of-the-art treatment to children with speech and language disorders, as well as shorten the waiting list of families seeking treatment for their children, according to Jim Proctor, president of the Scottish Rite Foundation of Duluth.
"There's a great need," Proctor said of the services the clinic provides. "There's a number of children on our waiting list, and we know there are some families that haven't even brought their kids to get on the waiting list because they know it's so long."
Proctor said that once the new clinic building opens it will be able to serve more than 200 children - twice as many as it can handle now. The clinic's present building then will be torn down to make room for a parking lot on the site.
At the groundbreaking, Duluth Mayor Don Ness spoke about his personal experience with the clinic. Ness' son James has received speech therapy there.
"Very few projects are as near and dear to my heart as this project," Ness said. "The work that Miss Nancy (Johnston) did with our James ... made all the difference in the world."
The clinic's increased capacity isn't the only thing those involved are looking forward to. Carol Roberts, the clinic's director, said the move to a new building also will allow them to introduce the newest technology for therapy.
Roberts said the new clinic will include Smart Boards and other interactive technology.
"We use so many things that help kids communicate that are devices," Roberts said. "There's a lot of technology, computer technology, that encourages kids to communicate, and that will be incorporated."
Roberts said the entire project, including both construction and operational expenses, will cost $7 million. Individual donors, corporations and foundations from the area will provide the money.
Kim Wagner, whose 6-year-old son Nathan is being treated at the clinic, said she is glad the clinic will be able to treat more children. Nathan was on the waiting list for three months before he was able to be seen.
"It's awesome," Wagner said. "It can help a whole lot more children. The work they do here is amazing."
About one-third of the children treated at the clinic - which works with kids from birth to age 9 - fall somewhere on the autism spectrum. The new building will better suit the needs to children on the spectrum, according to Tamara Pogin, a speech-language pathologist at the clinic.
The building will include two large "autism suites," which will have swings, slides and obstacle courses. Pogin said that allowing kids to move while they learn will keep them more engaged. There also will be more space for parent education groups.
"There is going to be a lot more space for children that don't work well in an 8-by-8 box," Pogin said. "If you don't have a child's attention you don't have their brain ready for learning, and so if we can keep them active and still learning we can teach parents and we can teach children at the same time."
Pogin said she hopes that the new building will allow the Scottish Rite center to become the go-to place for children with communication disorders.
"We really have been kind of a small pearl of the community for a long time, and we look to be becoming more of a center," she said.