Ceremonial grand opening Thursday

Inside the largest Planned Parenthood facility in the nation

Inside the largest Planned Parenthood facility in the nation

The new Planned Parenthood Prevention Park stands as the largest Planned Parenthood facility in the nation, and a beacon of progressive healthcare along the Gulf Freeway. The official grand opening of the facility — that will function as the headquarters of Planned Parenthood of Houston and Southeast Texas — is Thursday at 11 a..m. with Mayor Annise Parker scheduled to appear.

Having migrated from its former dank facility in a desolate corner of Midtown, Planned Parenthood now possesses the opportunity to treat nearly double the number of patients and consolidate administrative activities.

"It's so much more modern and welcoming than the old location," Planned Parenthood's Rochelle Tafolla says of the $16.7 million facility. The new location was a preexisting, brutalist concrete building occupied by Sterling Bank.

Once the organization launched its capital campaign in 2004, the building was acquired and slowly retrofitted with energy-efficient elements and a fresh design scheme by female-owned English + Associates Architects. The green accoutrements include coated windows, state of the art HVAC systems and automatic shutoff lights.

While detractors have labelled the expanded edifice an abortion "super center," the facility is much more dedicated to administration than feticide. Of its five stories, just one floor is assigned to abortion and vasectomy procedures.

"Only a third of the facility is used for medical services," Tafolla explains. Because the center is the regional crux of 10 locations in Texas and Louisiana, extra office space was imperative for the facility's 200 employees. The fifth floor, with its skyline views, offers conference rooms for board meetings, training rooms and space for receptions.

In terms of medical services, the new Prevention Park prides itself on having double the number of consultation rooms compared to the old location, allowing the organization to provide more efficient in-house exams rather than referring patients to the Texas Medical Center. (Even at its old location, Planned Parenthood provided over 70,000 HIV tests in 2009.)

Overnight, the Houston office has eliminated an antiquated paper trail, as each room is equipped with its own laptop computer for documenting medical history. Apart from the general consultation rooms, there is a separate, private entrance for emergency contraception and participants in research studies.

The move signifies landmark progress for sexual health in Houston, and although Planned Parenthood has always spurred a vocal contingent of protestors, the opposition is quieter than expected (the facility's actually been open since May 12, Thursday's ceremonial "grand opening" aside).

Elaborates Tafolla, "Before we moved in, there was a presence of protesters harassing construction workers. Of course the workers thought, 'What's going on? Nobody's even here yet.'" Planned Parenthood received notification of a large protest scheduled for May 11, but fewer than 12 participants appeared, all closely watched by the Houston Police Department.

"To be able to pull into an enclosed parking space is perhaps one of the best features of the new facility," Tafolla says, "At the old location, we had three lots that were not near the building, so that clients had difficulty finding the building.

"Fighting through the protesters was not a pleasant experience for many of them. When conceiving this new location, that was really one of our main objectives — you should feel safe."

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Photo by Mallory Mincberg
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Rochella Tafolla Photo by Mallory Mincberg
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Photo by Mallory Mincberg