Northeast Ohio’s first stand-alone birthing center, in what would be a visible and accessible location, is designed to help reduce Cuyahoga County’s nationally high infant mortality rates (City Architecture). CLICK IMAGES TO ENLARGE THEM.
Care center to address infant mortality crisis
For the non-profit organization Birthing Beautiful Communities (BBC), their mission is often noted in news stories detailing Cuyahoga County’s infant mortality crisis. Sadly, the county has had one of worst infant mortality rates in the country and is a symptom of much larger problems including poverty, poor nutrition, inadequate housing and unaffordable health care. Much of the need is in Cleveland’s inner city and especially on the East Side. So, to meet the need, BBC is seeking to construct Northeast Ohio’s first free-standing birthing center in Cleveland’s Hough neighborhood, on the north side of Chester Avenue, between East 63rd and 65th streets.
BBC is currently based at 3043 Superior Ave. in a brick mansion built in 1872 by the Groh family and renovated by The Chesler Group in 1999. As nice as that setting is, it’s a former residential structure measuring about 8,300 square feet and shared by three different organizations. BBC needs more space that is more specialized. So they’re seeking to construct a building roughly twice as large and designed specifically for birthing services.
The new three-story building is proposed to have four birthing suites, two exam rooms, a family room, baby boutique, conference rooms, offices, community room, and a training center for doulas — trained professionals who assist mothers before, during and shortly after childbirth. While they are not medical professionals, having more trained doulas in the community can help reduce the infant mortality crisis by offering guidance and support to mothers. And this new center will address that, BBC representatives say.
“This project is near and dear to my heart for many reasons,” said Khrys Shefton, BBC’s chief of growth and expansion, at Nov. 16 city design-review committee meeting. “We provide birth workers — trained professionals who work with mothers during pregnancy and for up to a year after the baby is born. We address issues that impact the child like housing and mental health. This will provide a space to celebrate the new life and a safe space for the mother, child and families.”
Proposed site plan for Birthing Beautiful Communities’ new birthing center, training facility and offices (City Architecture).
She said BBC has trained more than 200 doulas and served in excess of 2,000 mothers and families since 2014. Mothers helped by BBC experienced a 91 percent full-term birth rate and an 86.3 percent breastfeeding rate which is almost 20 percent more than birth mothers statewide. With a new, dedicated birth canter, BBC can provide more patient-centered care at lower costs, with fewer interventions, increased patient satisfaction and improved access to care, she said.
“With good work, why add a birth center?” Shefton asked. “It’s different than a hospital. It will be freestanding with no connection to a hospital but it will be within 15 minutes of a hospital in case something goes wrong. The space feels more like home rather than a critical care unit. That leads to better outcomes. Mothers can have low-risk births here. The birth center will be run by midwives.”
Conceptual plans for the new birthing center won conditional approval from the design-review committee. The conditions included a suggested study of façade materials, and a review of any pending issues with zoning and site placement. The building’s placement on the site affects its compliance with the city’s setback requirements in the zoning code. The city-owned, 0.73-acre property on which the birthing center would rise is comprised of seven parcels that are jagged along the angled Chester. The reason for that goes back to property takes for the construction of Chester in the late 1940s.
So putting a pedestrian-friendly building with entrance close to the corner of Chester and East 65th might have required a variance from the Board of Zoning Appeals if not for Hough becoming one of the neighborhoods to gain a form-based zoning code pilot area. Project backers said the center is in alignment with the form-based code in terms of setbacks. The entrance at that location is desired so that the center is more accessible to the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority’s (GCRTA) HealthLine transit stop at Euclid Avenue and East 66th Street. That station stop is two blocks away. GCRTA’s No. 9 bus stops a little closer at Hough Avenue and East 66th Street but is less frequent.
A street-level view of the proposed birthing center on the north side of Chester Avenue, between East 63rd and 65th streets, from the south side of Chester in the vicinity of the Dave’s Market and Eatery (City Architecture).
But the neighborhood wasn’t supportive of the birthing center at first, despite community meetings held last Spring and a July meeting with the Hough Heights Block Club. A resident petition objecting to the site at Chester and East 65th was circulated but that stopped after BBC and Cleveland-based architect City Architecture began new outreach efforts to understand residents’ concerns. A community barbecue was held on the development site followed by additional meetings.
“It’s located in Hough because that’s where the need was first identified,” said Katie Gillette, associate principal at City Architecture. “It’s located between Fire Station 17 and MAGNET (Manufacturing Advocacy & Growth Network) and across Chester from Dave’s Market. The site was identified in the ward development plan. It will improve sidewalks in the area as they will be replaced and pulled back from Chester. A strong landscape buffer to the north will be maintained. The goal is to strengthen the Chester Avenue corridor and make it more pedestrian friendly. It’s a site that celebrates black culture.”
If the refinement to the design get final approval, the building will be highly visible along Chester and East 65th. Gillette said the building’s east side will be it most public side but all sides will have exterior materials that embrace nature. There will be landscaping around the building to promote strolling and a garden wall to offer some privacy. Inside will be a family room for gatherings and relaxation for families during long births. And a rooftop deck will offer views of downtown to the west.
“It’s going to be very visible no matter what direction you’re approaching it from,” Gillette added.