British Columbia

Multi-million-dollar autism centre opens in Richmond

The 60,000 square-foot centre claims to be the first of its kind in North America and is a one-stop shop for families looking for support.

State-of-the-art facility will cater to nearly 70,000 people in the province with autism

B.C. Premier Christy Clark was on hand for the opening of the new GoodLife Fitness Family Autism Hub (Kamil Karamali/CBC)

B.C. Premier Christy Clark was accompanied by federal, provincial and municipal politicians to officially open the GoodLife Fitness Family Autism Hub in Richmond on Wednesday.

"I am so proud to be a very small part of this," said Clark. "And so proud to see all of you, who have been such a very big part of creating something unique for the world. We have all done it together."

The attendees included Canada's Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities Carla Qualtrough and Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie, but most of the smiles at the opening ceremony were on the faces of people who will be using the centre.

7-year-old Damon was diagnosed with autism four years ago. His mother, Patricia James, says until now, she hasn't felt there was anywhere she could go to get the help they need. (Kamil Karamali/CBC)

Patricia James is looking forward to using the centre for her 7-year-old son, Damon.

"I feel absolutely empowered as a parent to have a centre like this open," said James.

Damon was diagnosed with autism four years ago. James says since then, there hasn't been anywhere she has felt she could go to get the help they need.

She says the new facility will change that.

"There are dental services in here, there's a blood-lab so we can draw blood if we need to for any medical purposes," said James.

"There's going to be daycare, pre-schools and treatments that are all created for individuals that are on the spectrum."

State-of-the-art facility

The Pacific Autism Family Network is behind the 60,000 square-foot centre and says the state-of-the-art facility for people with autism is a first for North America.

The $28-million centre will support the roughly 69,000 people of all ages in B.C. that have autism spectrum disorder.

The hub is slated to be a one-stop shop for families looking for support with autism and related disorders.

It will include clinics, labs, classrooms, observation rooms and research spaces.

Although the hub is located in Richmond, eight other "spokes" will be located throughout B.C.

Construction on the multi-million-dollar autism centre broke ground nearly 2 years ago. (Pacific Autism Family Centre)

Premier Clark says the province contributed $20 million towards the hub. 

"I know you want to know that your money gets spent well and that it gets spent on people who need it," said Clark.

"Because in a society that is worthy, we are surely defined by how well we look after those who need a little bit of help," Clark added. "This organization, this facility meets that gold standard like almost nowhere else in the world."