Mitzi Wagner tried to fight back tears early Wednesday as she stared out at a cleared 10-acre lot off Castle Rock Road in Burton.
Now just an expanse of dirt dotted with pine trees and marked for utilities, the lot represents a fresh start for Wagner and more than 100 employees of the Beaufort County Disabilities and Special Needs Department.
More than 75 people gathered at the lot Wednesday to watch county officials don hard hats and scoop shovels full of dirt to celebrate the groundbreaking of the department's new 25,000-square-foot, $6 million home.
Wagner, the department's director, said the groundbreaking was a milestone for a program that has far outgrown its 9,830-square-foot space on Old Shell Road in Port Royal, where it has been since 1995.
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"It's a dream come true," Wagner said. "This really is for the staff who has persevered in some awful conditions and continued to do a beautiful job. Today is a truly great day."
Space is so tight at the department's current home that nearly half of its 104 day-program clients are bused to partnering agencies in Beaufort and on Hilton Head Island.
The new facility will be a three-building campus that includes an administration building, the day-program building and a third building expected to house a pottery room and greenhouse.
The county will pay for the new buildings with more than $4.9 million from its capital improvement project fund, according to county officials. State and federal grants will cover the rest. The project is expected to be completed in September.
County Councilman Brian Flewelling of Shell Point said he was proud to have the new building in his district.
"Republican, Democrat, independent or progressive, there are a lot of issues that divide us in politics," Flewelling said. "What I think everyone agrees on ... is that we should endeavor to improve the quality of life for all of our citizens. The clients of this facility help us determine true north on our moral compasses, and I'm proud to have had a part in this."