NICEVILLE, Florida (Nov. 17, 2016) – Officials with Emerald Coast Autism Center held a grand opening and dedication ceremony for the nonprofit’s $2.5 million, state-of-the-art therapy center 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 began the year-long construction process on the 15,225-square-foot facility on Oct. 1, 2015.
The facility, which will allow the organization to nearly double its student population to 130, features 12 therapy rooms, a speech therapy room, an occupational therapy room, a life skills room, a computer room, a centers room, a resource room, an indoor playground/gymnasium, a multipurpose room, a kitchen, a conference room and an administrative suite. On the grounds, an 11,500-square-foot ADA-compliant playground is also included.
In 2013, the locally operated 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.
Funding for the center has come from a capital campaign that began in 2012. Destin Charity Wine Auction Foundation has provided financial support to the ongoing campaign since 2012, totaling $750,000. In recognition of DCWAF’s substantial contribution, ECAC’s board of directors dedicated the new facility during the grand opening ceremony to the locally based nonprofit, which is consistently ranked as one of Wine Spectator Magazine’s Top Ten Charity Wine Auctions.
“Destin Charity Wine Auction Foundation is so very proud to have played a part in bringing this incredible facility to our community,” said John Russell, president of DCWAF. “The growing number of children with autism requires us to respond to help them and their families as much as we possibly can. The leadership and supporters of Emerald Coast Autism Center have poured their hearts into this project and their success today shows what can be accomplished when we work together to help those who need us most.”
Also participating in the ceremonies, which included a ribbon cutting by the Niceville Chamber of Commerce, were local leaders and representatives from NWFSC Board of Trustees and executive leadership team.
“This day, for which we planned and waited for over many years, has come with a range of emotions, chief among them is gratitude for our partners who joined us in our journey,” said Heidi Blalock, CEO of Emerald Coast Autism Center. “DCWAF’s generous financial support has been nothing short of a game changer, greatly accelerating our time line on establishing this facility. And Northwest Florida State College Board of Trustees, which stepped up and offered us the incredible opportunity to build on their campus, literally provided us with the foundation for this much-needed center for some of the most amazing children you will ever meet.
“The hard truth is currently one in 68 children in our country is diagnosed with autism, and data estimates there are more than 800 children with autism living in Okaloosa and Walton counties,” Blalock continued. “This new facility has expanded our scope of services and already allowed us to admit several more children. Therefore, the contributions made by these two organizations, along with our builder, Design/Build Systems, Inc. and countless others, are already making a significant difference in the lives of so many children and their families on the Emerald Coast.”
More information about Emerald Coast Autism Center, including the organization’s capital campaign, can be found at ECAutismCenter.org or by calling 850-279-3000.