Emerald Coast Autism Center

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Emerald Coast Autism Center breaks ground on $2.5 Million facility at Northwest Florida State College

Published: January 4, 2016


NICEVILLE, Florida (Oct. 1, 2015) – Officials with Emerald Coast Autism Center broke ground today at the site of what will be a new, $2.5 million, state-of-the-art school and therapy center for the nonprofit organization at Northwest Florida State College’s Niceville campus.

Founded in 2009 to fill the gap in educational services for children on the Autism spectrum living in Okaloosa and Walton counties, ECAC will immediately begin construction on the 15,225-square-foot school, with an anticipated completion date in October 2016.

The facility, which will allow the organization to nearly double its student population to 130, will feature 10 classrooms and three group classrooms, a speech therapy room, an occupational therapy room, a life skills room, an indoor playground/gymnasium, a multipurpose room with adjoining kitchen, a conference room and administrative offices.

In 2013, the locally operated school and therapy center entered into an agreement with Northwest Florida State College, forming an innovative partnership that paved the way for the new facility. Northwest Florida State College is leasing the land, located west of the baseball stadium, for an annual fee of $1.

“We are very excited to welcome the Emerald Coast Autism Center to our campus,” said Brian Pennington, chairman of the NWF State College Board of Trustees. “It is our hope that this new home and new partnership with ECAC will continue to improve the lives of families and students throughout Northwest Florida for many years to come.”

Additional support followed with funds totaling approximately $600,000 from Destin Charity Wine Auction Foundation. Funding continues by the school through an active capital campaign.

“With one in 68 children currently being diagnosed with Autism, ECAC’s board of directors understands the urgency to be proactive and forward thinking in strategically growing our nonprofit school to best serve these amazing children, their families and our community,” said Heidi Blalock, CEO of Emerald Coast Autism Center. “And through the generosity, commitment and support of Northwest Florida State College, Destin Charity Wine Auction Foundation and our builder, Design/Build Systems, Inc., we are standing here today at what will become an incredible place that will, for many years to come, improve the lives of countless Emerald Coast children affected by autism.”

Participating in the ceremonial groundbreaking with ECAC officials and families were local leaders, including Brian Pennington, Bob Gelardi, Dan Buckner and Niceville Mayor Randall Wise.