PORTAGE — Lt. Gov Brian Calley was among more than half a dozen community leaders and a crowd of more than 50 who appeared at a former Moose Lodge late Monday morning to to voice their support for the construction of a new autism and research center.
The center is expected to create more than 30 jobs when completed this summer.
Supporters of the Great Lakes Center for Autism Treatment and Research (GLCATR) "broke ground" on the $1.7 million dollar renovation project at 9616 Portage Road by taking turns swinging hammers through a wall at around noon.
Calley, whose 5-year-old daughter is autistic, was the event's keynote speaker and was first to wield a hammer immediately following the ceremony.
"I live with autism in my house every day," Calley said before the ceremony, adding that he has a "special appreciation" for what is required for families and treatment professionals. "This (facility) is important and unique."
The GLCATR is a collaborative effort between Residential Opportunities, Inc. and Western Michigan University's Department of Psychology. The center will provide an intensive residential treatment program for approximately 20 of the most challenging children per year with diagnoses of developmental disabilities and autism spectrum disorder, as well as outpatient therapy services for approximately 100 children per year.
Scott Schrum, CEO of Residential Opportunities, said since Michigan law doesn't require insurance companies to cover autism treatment, the center "means help for a lot of children who aren't getting it."
Schrum said work on renovating the on the 18,500-square-foot property will begin early Tuesday morning and should be completed by mid-July.
Community leaders at the "wall breaking" event on Monday included Portage Mayor Pete Strazdas; Sen. Tonya Schuitmaker; Rep. Sean McCann; and Ron Kitchens, CEO of Southwest Michigan First.
By Simon A. Thalmann