PORTLAND — The old waiting room had space for six chairs and a soda machine. Fluorescent lights flickered. A plexiglass window separated visitors from the receptionist, forcing communication through a small opening, as if at a box office.

The unspoken message: You’re dangerous. We have to protect our staff from you.

“Which is not the case,” said Anne Pringle, chair of Maine Mental Health Partners a nonprofit that coordinates the efforts of mental health care providers in 11 counties.

By contrast, clients who enter the relocated Community Counseling Center – which reopens today after moving from Forest Avenue to Lancaster Street in Portland’s Bayside neighborhood – will receive an entirely different greeting.

A wide, semicircular front desk over which the word “Welcome” is written in more than 15 different languages in a variety of hues. Warm, inviting earth tones such as plum, gold and sea foam green. Receptionists seated on raised stools, the better to establish immediate eye contact. Large windows to allow plenty of natural light.

“When you come into a welcoming environment,” Pringle said, “you’re more likely to come again after you peek in the door.”

Pringle was on hand Monday afternoon to celebrate the ribbon-cutting ceremony for one of Maine’s oldest private, nonprofit family service agencies.

Community Counseling Center, with roots dating back to 1874, belongs to Maine Mental Health Partners. The center serves more than 10,000 clients a year, both onsite and through employee assistance programs for local companies.

After more than two decades in its former digs on Forest Avenue, the Center moved into 30,000 feet of remodeled space in the middle of Bayside, only a few blocks from the Preble Street Resource Center.

The total cost of renovations was $578,000, much of it covered by a $428,000 loan from Spring Harbor Hospital, which also falls under the Maine Mental Health Partners umbrella. Fundraising will raise the remaining $150,000, according to Mary Jane Krebs, interim CEO of the Community Counseling Center.

The bright new office space with the freshly-mulched landscaping outside stands in stark contrast to the center’s near-insolvency barely three years ago.

“The organization kept shrinking and shrinking to cut costs, which clearly wasn’t the answer,” Krebs said.

Instead, the center now collaborates with other mental health providers and hospitals to share administrative services, such as accounting, payroll, human resources and information technology. Linking with hospitals also allows for better patient hand-off and, ultimately, better quality of care, Krebs said.

The new building, used a century ago for baking bread, now includes more than 70 clinical offices as well as six conference rooms and the spacious waiting area with sections for children and adults. Instead of six chairs, there are 57, and that doesn’t include beanbag chairs for kids.

“Walking in here, I think people are going to be drawn in in a way that they weren’t in the old building because it had a very cramped entrance space,” said Melania Turgelsky, vice president for quality and strategic initiatives. “People will have much more of a sense of being taken care of when they come into this building.”

The waiting room includes a wall-sized exhibit with historical photos and newspaper clippings.

“Our mission is to serve everybody,” Turgelsky said. “A lot of our clients are low income, and we wanted to have an absolutely modern, welcoming space … that was an inspiring place for us to work so we can really go further for them.”


Staff Writer Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or at: [email protected]