Ernie Els, Els Center of Excellence: School for children with autism breaks ground in Jupiter

JUPITER, Fla. - A new school in Palm Beach County specifically for children on the autism spectrum broke ground Monday morning that will house educational, medical and research services all under one roof.

The 27-acre school will be built north of Indiantown Road and east of Interstate 95 in the Limestone Creek area of Jupiter.

The Els Center of Excellence will open in time for the 2015 school year.

Pro golfer Ernie Els and his wife Liezl started the project after their son Ben was diagnosed with autism. The campus will also have a state of the art golf course.

"It's unbelievable, it's a dream come true," Els said Monday.

It will be a first-of-its-kind school featuring classrooms, athletic facilities and medical programs for those from ages three to 21 on the autism spectrum and will enroll 300 students from first grade through high school.

The $35 million project will be separated into two public charter schools, equipped with an athletic field, swimming pool and job training program. 

The school will also have its own on-site medical center.

"When our son was diagnosed and when we moved here, it became evident there was a huge gap we need to fill. For us to be able to be a small contribution to that, to help the kids and help the future is amazing," said Liezl.

"We never thought our lives would go this way. Thanks to Ben we are where we are today," said Els.

With his golf connections leading the way, they've  raised $15 million of the $30 million it will cost to build the entire facility.

They expect to have the first stage open in 2015 for younger students. It will have room for 300, but they're also looking to connect with the international autism community.

"We're hoping we can reach people in faraway places where there aren't facilities like these, and share information with parents and teachers and help them teach their kids in their communities," said Liezl.

Getting this far is a milestone, but how does it compare with playing on the PGA tour?

"This is much more fun. This is hard work, but it's fun," said Els with a laugh.

Els also said he plans to spend much more time at the facility when his playing days are over.

NewsChannel 5's Tom Kastanotis contributed to this report.

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