Civic and philanthropic leaders gathered Wednesday to celebrate the expansion of St. David's Center to downtown Minneapolis, where it will offer services for infants and families.

About 40 people in hard hats stood in what will be the second floor of the Harman Center for Child and Family Well-being on the corner of Alice Rainville Place and Marquette Avenue. The center is part of Westminster Presbyterian Church's expansion project.

St. David's Center CEO Julie Sjordal said the new building will offer early childhood mental health services, pediatric therapies, a day treatment program for children who have faced trauma, and the East African Autism day treatment program, previously located in northeast Minneapolis.

"Investing in our youngest and most vulnerable citizens is critical," Sjordal said.

"And investing early in children offers the greatest hope and the greatest return. Access to the right mix of services for the whole family will achieve the best possible results."

At the new center, St. David's, based in Minnetonka, will serve about 200 children up to 5 years of age and their parents who live in Minneapolis and nearby communities. Construction has already started on the 9,000-square-foot, $4.5 million building, which is set to open in March.

Located off Nicollet Mall, the center counts that accessibility as a huge advantage, leaders said.

Jennifer DeCubellis, deputy administrator for Hennepin County Health and Human Services, said families in the East African autism day treatment program tend to drive "quite a ways with children with disabilities in order to access the care."

"So bringing that to the home community means families can engage a little easier, families that are already under enormous stress have more ease," she said.

The Rev. Tim Hart-Andersen said the church formed a partnership with St. David's in October 2016.

"We are trying to open a lot of doors and a lot of futures," Hart-Andersen said.

"And we settled on one that works best for what we are trying to do as a church, and that is to serve the most vulnerable in our community. And that certainly is children."

Karen Zamora • 612-673-4647