EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WLAX/WEUX) – This morning, Gateways, a program that serves 20-35 students aged 18-21 with special needs, symbolically broke ground on a new site they will soon call home. First News at Nine’s Jessica Mendoza shares the vision behind this new transition center.

Less than a month ago– the Eau Claire Area School Board voted unanimously to make sure one under-served community was no longer overlooked. With hard hats and golden hammers, renovations begin on what will soon be a new special education transition center.

“A few years ago we were evaluating our post school outcomes for our students in education and we recognized we needed to do better we needed to meet their needs in a different way than we were doing,” Executive Director of Special Education Mandy Van Vleet said. The vision was to create a meaningful transition option — “As you can probably imagine being 19-20 years old you probably don’t want to continue going back to the high school that you’ve been a part of,” said Van Vleet.

Allowing students to further develop independence after high school.

“This off-site location will provide the opportunity for our students to be around age-appropriate peers. We will be out in the community working on those job development skills – grocery shopping, rec and leisure, all sorts of things.”

Completing his first school year as ECASD Superintendent, Michael Johnson says he knows the impact these programs have on the community.

“There are certain moments you never forget. We had a graduation at memorial and two parents talked to me about Gateways about how much this means to them. And you can’t see goose bumps right now but every time I think of that and get to experience that, that’s why we do what we do,” said ECASD superintendent, Michael Johnson.

Van Vleet says hours of dreaming about what could be done for students in this space – is closer to a reality.

That was Jessica Mendoza reporting. While ECASD is funding the renovation project, Gateways and life without limits are fundraising with a goal of $100,000 to add the finishing touches such as furniture and appliances needed.