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WestBridge South: New look, same mission

May 15, 2012
by Dennis Grantham Editor-In-Chief
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Building designs reflect Florida’s “cracker” style, but treatment program shows New England roots
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Developed on a 10-acre campus that includes residence, administrative, and recreational facilities, the $6.2 million WestBridge South facility opened in March 2012 in Brooksville, Fla., a small city that’s about 60 miles west of Orlando and 40 miles north of Tampa.

The grand opening of the campus culminated a four-year journey for WestBridge Community Services (Manchester, N.H.). According to long-time CEO, Mary Woods, RN-BC, LADC, MSHS, the journey south began with exploratory discussions about the possibility of extending WestBridge’s model of integrated treatment for co-occurring disorders beyond its New England home base, where the organization operates a 12-bed residential facility and several satellite centers that offer intensive outpatient treatment modeled on the Assertive Community Treatment (ACT) model.

And, while its newest campus is a long way from New Hampshire, Woods says that WestBridge South will continue the mission envisioned by the organization’s founders. That mission is to provide residential treatment for adult men, aged 18 and up, with co-occurring mental health and substance use disorders and ongoing support to those in recovery and their families.

Route to Florida found online

Interestingly, WestBridge found the route to its southern campus online. “Back in 2008, when we thought about where we could go to expand the business, we examined how it was that people were finding us, specifically where their web searches were originating from,” Woods recalls. In time, they found that Florida was at the top of the list. Then, after a thorough review of Florida’s requirements turned up no likely impediments to facility licensure, WestBridge officials decided to search in earnest for the right site.

Their search originated on Florida’s east coast, within the string of cities that line the coast north of Miami. Although the area was home to many potential program participants, the fit wasn’t right, says COO Jonathan Routhier; the areas were just too crowded, too urbanized. “We find that our participants tend to do better when they are farther away from the distractions of an urban area,” he explains.

Yet, he adds that the site also had to be accessible—within a reasonable drive time from major airports or freeways. And, most important, the locality had to offer a planning and zoning process that would be compatible—in time and cost—with the siting of a treatment center.

After more than a year of investigation, and after rejecting several proposed sites, WestBridge officials believed that they had found what they were looking for: a series of adjoining plots, comprising 10 acres, that could be combined and zoned (commercial) to allow for treatment center development in the city of Brooksville, Fla. With the help of a local engineer, WestBridge approached Hernando County commissioners with a proposal to develop WestBridge South.

While the county commission proceeded with hearings on the proposal, neighbors who lived in a large housing development adjoining the proposed WestBridge South property expressed concern. “There were a lot of fears expressed initially. Most were based on misunderstandings or stereotypes,” Woods recalls. “We found that we really needed to educate the community about the realities of treatment.”

To “give a face” to the need for treatment, WestBridge developed a video that featured individuals and families treated at WestBridge’s New Hampshire facility and shared it with the Brooksville community. At the same time, she and the team worked with local officials to listen to and addressing neighbors’ questions and concerns about facility operations, staffing, and security. In all, an 18-month process was needed to complete local planning and zoning and close on the purchase of the Brooksville property.

Designed on a small scale

Like its counterpart facility in Manchester, WestBridge South was developed on a relatively small scale. The South facility has 20 beds—arranged in a combination of single and double-occupancy rooms—to the 12 at WestBridge’s Manchester location, though its spacious 10-acre campus contrasts with the modest city lot on which the Manchester treatment house is built. 

The site’s architecture at combines practical knowledge gained in over a decade of treatment at WestBridge’s New England facilities with a distinctly Southern feel. Building design was the product of two architects. First is Chip Krause, AIA, LEED, a principal at CMK architects (Manchester, N.H.) with whom WestBridge worked to complete the renovation of its Manchester treatment facility about a decade ago.

Woods credits him with understanding the basic layout and flow of treatment operations based on his experience with the renovation. After closing on the Brooksville land purchase, Woods invited Krause to tour the new site and the surrounding community to find a local inspiration that would energize the new facility’s design.

Krouse found his inspiration in a local landmark: Brooksville’s historic train depot, a structure dating from 1885 that is built in the distinctive Florida “cracker” style. Developed by early Florida settlers decades before any thought of air conditioning, the cracker style is characterized by rectangular structures with broad, gently sloping metal roofs; straight-through (“shotgun”) hallways and rooms; ample windows (for cross-ventilation); and expansive, shaded porch areas.  

Room to roam

With Krause’s design concepts in hand, WestBridge engaged local architect Klar & Klar (Clearwater, Fla.) to finalize the design for local approval, bid preparation, contracting, and construction. With approvals and winning bids in hand, WestBridge South broke ground in February 2011 and opened in March 2012.