Following a yearslong absence, a highly valued community program looks to return to a Belle Haven neighborhood in the midst of a rejuvenation.
By the time it closed in 2015, a clinic run by the Ravenswood Family Health Network (RFHN) at the old Onetta Harris Community Center was serving about 4,000 clients each year. A new version of the clinic aims to pick things back up after it’s expected to open on the Belle Haven Elementary campus in 2026.
That prospect has come about because the Ravenswood City School District board on Nov. 9 approved a long-term ground-lease agreement with RFHN to develop a 6,000-square-foot comprehensive health clinic along the northeast corner of the campus field.
“The community wanted this,” RFHN CEO Luisa Buada said in an interview. “It will be co-located with the school, which is great. We will be able to provide preventive services for the students.”
But the services would also extend to the rest of the largely underserved neighborhood on the east side of Menlo Park.
“There will be access for seniors, the parents of the children, their siblings and people in the neighborhood,” Buada said. “Anyone who wants to come to the clinic would have an opportunity to come. It just helps bring healthcare close to those who live in Belle Haven.”
The clinic is projected to serve about 4,350 patients annually after operating for three years, she said. It would provide family medical care, preventative and restorative dental programs, vision and hearing screenings, social services and various other health- and wellness-related offerings.
Buada also noted that RFHN is a federally qualified health center, meaning that the Belle Haven clinic would see patients regardless of their ability to pay or health-insurance status.
“So that's one of the advantages besides the convenience of being close by,” she said. “We do accept health insurance, but we also have a sliding fee scale based on income and number of people in the family. We do provide a significant amount of discounts for people to make it affordable.”
RFHN would build the clinic from modular construction costing about $6 million, including equipment and technology, she said. The clinic could open in the spring of 2026.
The district pointed out that the modular design offers maximum flexibility for future uses of the site, in contrast to a permanent type of construction. In the event the lease agreement comes to an end, RFHN could easily take out the modular spaces, giving back the site as it looks today.
That scenario would make room for additional classrooms or other educational purposes for the school if needed, the district said.
According to the district, the lease would generate either $100,000 in rent, or that dollar amount in direct services to students, or a combination of the two annually.
“As long as those direct services to Ravenswood students exceeded the rent, (RFHN) wouldn't pay rent in that year,” district Chief Business Officer William Eger said during a presentation at the Oct. 26 board meeting. “Should rent not exceed, they would then pay the differential in terms of their rent.”
According to results of a district survey about possible uses for the site, 51% of Belle Haven respondents favored a health clinic compared to 25% for a picnic area with parking space and 24% for tennis courts.
“The Ravenswood City School District is always looking for ways to use our spaces to benefit the whole community,” board President Jenny Varghese Bloom said in an email to this publication. “So when we had an opportunity to use our land at Belle Haven Elementary to benefit the community of Menlo Park, we were excited to welcome back (RFHN). We want to continue to champion and serve Menlo Park and partner with RFHN to continue the work to meet the health needs of the Belle Haven community.”
The clinic’s return would come as Belle Haven is experiencing a revival. A major renovation of Belle Haven Elementary is about to begin while the newly named Belle Haven Community Campus is nearing completion in the same location as the former Onetta Harris Community Center at 100 Terminal Ave.
A history of a clinic in the neighborhood goes back to the mid-1990s when San Mateo County started one at Onetta Harris.
“The Belle Haven clinic was originally operated by San Mateo County for adult patients only, mainly seniors,” Buada said. When RFHN took over in 2006, “we opened it as a family-medicine site, serving pediatrics, women’s health, prenatal care, adults with chronic diseases and health coaching.”
But in 2015, she said, RFHN closed the clinic, bringing staff and patients to a newly opened health center at 1885 Bay Road in East Palo Alto.
In the long run, the clinic -- then at about 2,000 square feet -- faced challenges with demand, she said. But the planned clinic, at three times the size, should meet the community’s needs well.
“We appreciate the school board’s trust in us,” Buada said, “and we definitely will step up to meet their expectations. We definitely are committed to the children and the families of the school district and hope that the clinic being co-located there at the school will make a difference in the health of the children’s lives that are there and that we can make an important contribution to their long-term health.”