Exactly a year after a divided Palm Beach County Commission approved the final siting of Scripps Florida in Jupiter, the ground’s been cleared, concrete columns have sprouted and officials are for the first time in years looking forward to the project’s completion.
‘It’s been a year, but there was so much work to do to get to this point in a year that it really is a fantastic story,’ said Assistant County Administrator Shannon Laroque. ‘For all the negative that happened to Scripps in the past, this can be very positive.’
Last Valentine’s Day, county commissioners narrowly passed a vote to put Scripps on the 30-acre site in Abacoa, adjacent to its temporary laboratories at Florida Atlantic University.
The fractious vote, which favored Jupiter over Gov. Jeb Bush’s endorsed site in Boca Raton, was the last tremor in the earthquake-riddled deal to bring the California-based institute to Palm Beach County.
The county and the state had already committed $700 million in the deal, which nearly fell apart in late 2005 when a federal judge ordered construction at Mecca Farms halted citing inadequate environmental review.
Three new sites were proposed, and Abacoa won out. Emotions were raw, exhaustion heavy as staff worked with Scripps to draw up a brand-new contract, Laroque recalled Wednesday.
‘The only thing we had on Feb. 14, 2006, was policy direction by the county commissioners,’ Laroque said.
‘It was so politically charged,’ she added. ‘It’s so nice to be able to stand there and look at everything today.’
Negotiating a new contract took until June. In addition, all the plans had to be redesigned and new permits secured. The county had to purchase the neighboring Briger property for added lab space and drew up interlocal agreements with communities slated to host the bioresearch cluster that was to grow up around Scripps.
But Wednesday, Laroque and construction managers stood in front of tractors on a site where the three buildings that will make up the Scripps Research Institute were demarcated on the soft, upturned earth.
Concrete already covers the column rebars of Building A, which will house drug discovery. Building C, the biomedical research building, was a stage behind, awaiting concrete, and Building B, the administration building that will also house the advanced technology that Scripps boasts gives it unrivaled research abilities, is still at ground level.
In all, 351,803 square feet will be built for about $187 million. If all goes according to plan, the project will be completed by December 2008. A loaded promise coming from the project that 18 months ago was nearly buried.
‘Everybody had to be aligned on the same page to make this happen,’ Laroque said. ‘It’s pure construction implementation at this rate. I don’t see anything in the way at this point.’