By Bill Kirk
In a major milestone for Northern Essex Community College's health-care training program, an architect has been hired to design the school's new Allied Health and Technology Center at the site of the old Intown Mall on Essex Street in Lawrence.
Another milestone should be reached by next week, when the city removes a traffic-light switching station from the basement of the vacant mall to a sidewalk utility box across the street.
That will clear the way for the sale of the property to the college. Then the old mall will be demolished to make way for the center, which will train students for careers in health care.
The college has 500 students enrolled in six certificate and 11 associate-degree health-care programs at its Franklin Street building.
But a lack of space has prevented the college from developing additional programs for perioperative nurses, surgical technicians and EKG technicians or increasing enrollment in high-demand programs for dental and medical assistants.
With the new center on Essex Street, an estimated 1,200 students are expected to come into the city daily to attend classes.
Funding for the project is expected to come from a $21.7 million Higher Education Bond bill. A state grant of $230,000 paid for the architect.
The project has also received extensive support from the city, which agreed to sell the mall for $1; the NECC foundation, which paid $118,000 to relocate businesses in the mall; the Merrimack Valley Planning Commission, which funded a $72,000 environmental site survey; and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which paid $536,000 to remove asbestos.