El Rio’s Manning House Headquarters Exudes History and Purpose

May 16, 2016

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This side of the original structure bears some exquisitely detailed painting underneath, which will also see some additional restoration work soon.

by James J. Jefferies

During a time in which health care is such a critical need for many people in the greater Southern Arizona community, El Rio Community Health Center is an organization that continues to do fantastic work on behalf of so many who would otherwise go without those services. They’ve been at it for more than 40 years here in the Old Pueblo.

Over 18 months ago, they set out on an ambitious project to begin a renovation of the historic Manning House complex, the goal of which was to simultaneously restore the building, keeping intact so much of its original splendor from the year it was erected (1907), along with installing a 21st century information and operations infrastructure that could ensure the mission of a rapidly growing organization would continue and thrive.

“Once we got a look at it,” said Richard Spaulding, Strategic Planner and Facilities Director of El Rio Community Health Center, “we knew it was perfect…but there would be a lot of hoops to jump through…with the archaeology we had to do at the site and everything else.”

Of course, the entire project would take a lot of work to go from once-opulent early 20th century manor to state-of-the-art nonprofit headquarters. Even the original scope of the planned renovation and layout, which was once envisioned to serve about a hundred people, grew to accommodate the more than 230 employees who now call the complex home.

“As we got closer to zeroing in on the details in our plans, there was a widening gap between what we originally envisioned, and the reality of our situation,” said Spaulding. “There was going to have to be a major addition.”

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There is a mysterious door at the top of this tower. Was there a spiral staircase that led up to it originally? Research thus far has remained inconclusive.

What people think of as the “original” Manning House is in fact a cluster of numerous expansions upon the core property that have occurred by way of a long litany of tenants over the last century, from the Manning family to the City of Tucson to the Elks in the 1960s. From multiple owners, to different architects, and a variety of structural solutions and wiring all in the same space, it created a bit of a generational Rubik’s Cube.

An entire second three-story building would soon be planned to reside alongside the Manning House. This building houses El Rio’s massive maintenance department, the organization’s IT team, and their call center, which now processes more than 70,000 incoming calls a month.

Even though Manning House now serves as a massive office complex, the original charm of the early 20th-century architecture is still very much on display for all to see, from the tiny stained-glass accents, exposed beams and marble fireplaces, to the marvelously sunlit atrium that now functions as a break room.

It is easy to see, even upon first visit, how much the genuinely beautiful atmosphere is going to contribute to the well being of El Rio’s personnel, an energy that can only boost the spirits of those engaged in such an important local mission that impacts the lives of so many in Southern Arizona.

This fabulous new facility is up and running, but the El Rio Health Center Foundation faces an ongoing challenge all year long in keeping the donations flowing to maintain all of their facilities across the area. If you would like to learn more about their mission or how to contribute a donation and get involved, please check out their website at El Rio Community Health Center.

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