LAWRENCE — Before he died in 2005, Ibrahim El-Hefni established a foundation that subsequently donated $1 million to Northern Essex Community College.
That money is going toward the construction of the El-Hefni Health and Technological Center — a $27.4 million project that will fill up a space that had become an inner city eyesore — the former InTown Mall.
"He was the smartest person I've ever met and he understood as an immigrant how important it was to contribute to education," Suzanne Wright said of her late father.
Last Thursday, Wright and her mother, Wensley El-Hefni, joined college officials, politicians and students at the ground-breaking ceremony for the center which will house the majority of the college's 17 health care certificates and associate degree programs.
The building is scheduled to open in 2013.
Wright said her father arrived in the United States from Egypt in the 1960s, and although he was educated in England, he always credited his success as a scientist and inventor to the opportunities he received in his adopted country.
"He could have moved anywhere in the world, but he chose the U.S. because it has always been the land of opportunity," Wright said.
Her father, an electrical engineer, started his business, Microwave Research Company, in the basement of his North Andover home.
"Lawrence is not the city of the damned. It is the city of hope that immigrants have when they come here looking for opportunities and a better life for their children," Wright said.
Her reference to "city of the damned" refers to a recent headline on a Boston Magazine article that painted a bleak picture of the city. "It's the immigrants who had the brilliance and dare to change their lives that makes us who we are," Wright said in her remarks during yesterday's ceremonies.
Wright said her own family has had success due to the allied health program at the school. Her son-in-law graduated from the paramedic program and is now working for Northeast Ambulance Co.
"It just goes to show that the school is training people for jobs available today," Wright said.
Northern Essex President Lane Glenn said one-third of the 1,048 school graduates last year were in the health field.
"This building will revitalize downtown Lawrence, bringing more students to the city and preparing more residents for jobs in high-demand health-care fields," Glenn said.
"This event is one that will mark the next chapter in the city of Lawrence," said Mayor William Lantigua.
"Education is freedom and this is just the beginning for Lawrence," state State Rep. Marcos Devers, D-Lawrence, agreed. Devers said.