A Smithtown nonprofit will break ground this week on a new residence for children with autism who otherwise would be sent out of state because of a lack of beds locally.

The Developmental Disabilities Institute is holding its groundbreaking ceremony on Thursday at a 14-acre school property it owns in Greenlawn.

Director of development Dan Rowland said the project has been in the works for nearly seven years. The Town of Huntington is issuing building and other permits.

The project, which will cost more than $8 million, is being funded by the New York State Education Department, New York State Office for People with Developmental Disabilities and the institute, which undertook a capital campaign that has raised more than $1.2 million.

Two town homes, each accommodating 12 children from 5 to 21 years old, will be built behind the nonprofit's existing school building. The school will be expanded by four more classrooms for the extra students, and will include upgrades to make the facility more accessible. Construction is expected to take nine to 12 months.

Rowland said many Long Island families with children who have developmental disabilities and autism, and who need residential care, are forced to seek placements upstate or out of state.

The Developmental Disabilities Institute has a two-year waiting list for its residences.

About 100 Long Island children -- most with developmental disabilities -- are in residential placements in other states, said James DeLorenzo, statewide coordinator for special education with the New York State Education Department.

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