ANACONDA — Though preliminary work is already under way on site, AWARE Inc. held its official groundbreaking ceremony Friday for the Center for Excellence in Anaconda.
The 8,465-square-foot school for children with complex emotional and behavioral needs is slated over two lots of remediated Superfund land at the east entrance to town, and south off Highway 1.
County and school district officials joined AWARE for the indoor celebration, dodging the cold December weather and congratulating each other’s effort to make the Center for Excellence a reality.
Chief Executive Connie Ternes-Daniels commended the many different partnerships, and described the project as “a monumental moment in putting Superfund land back into use.”
“It takes a real commitment, and our commissioners were committed to seeing this project through,” Ternes-Daniels said.
The Center for Excellence will replace AWARE’s former residential program and campus at Galen, which the corporation closed in July due to deteriorating facilities. Classes are temporarily being held at the Anaconda High School Technology Center until the opens. It’s expected to happen by Aug. 15.
AWARE reached a development agreement with the county in May 2010 to build what they hope will serve as the anchor tenant of the East Yards Subdivision. Commissioner Elaine Lux-Burt told The Montana Standard she is excited to finally see construction moving forward.
“This sets the standard for the East Yards, and anything AWARE builds is first class,” Lux-Burt said. “I think it’s great.”
The Anaconda school district will continue to contract with Great Divide Education Services in Deer Lodge for staff and resources, with 30 kids currently enrolled at the Center for Excellence. Those kids live in seven new therapeutic group homes built last year.
Superintendent Tom Darnell welcomed a new wave of Copperheads and said the district will do everything it can to ensure they receive a quality education.
“The school district is still responsible, and we look forward to that opportunity,” Darnell said.
The Center for Excellence will retain 90 jobs from the Galen program, allow for up to 30 new jobs and generate more than $5.3 million annually in economic activity for Anaconda, according to AWARE. But CEO Larry Noonan and Program Officer Michael O’Neil particularly emphasized the importance of offering top-notch services for Montana children in their own communities, close to family and home.
That vision helped AWARE to secure a $2.8 million loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development assistance program earlier this year. The nonprofit recently awarded its construction bid to Swank Enterprises for $1.62 million.
Future phases of development could mean the Center for Excellence takes in even more children in the coming years, Noonan said.
“Montana historically has sent away our children with the greatest needs related to disability,” Noonan said in a released. “Our Center for Excellence project will contribute to keeping kids at home in Montana, while greatly contributing to our local and regional economy.”
Reporter George Plaven may be reached at 496-5597, or via email at email@example.com. Follow him at Twitter.com/ @George_Plaven.