ACT Disability Minister Joy Burch joined Canberra Raiders coach Ricky Stuart to launch the start of construction of a new respite centre for children with disability in Chifley.
The project is a joint venture between the ACT Government and the Ricky Stuart Foundation, designed to cater for children with disability including autism. It will include six beds and will be run by not-for-profit Marymead which already partners with the government in service delivery.
Ms Burch said the centre would serve between 30 and 40 families each year and would be built with children and the community in mind.
The ACT Government has pledged $1 million to the project with the foundation set to contribute about $400,000.
"The partnership between government and Ricky Stuart has really moved along quickly and well and has come together with the turning of the sod today," Ms Burch said.
"The [development application] is going in and by this time next year we will be back to celebrate a completed, brand new purpose-built respite centre for our young ones."
She praised Mr Stuart for his leadership of the project and for approaching the ACT Government for support. Mr Stuart's foundation has already sought support from Canberra businesses and construction companies.
Wednesday's event coincided with International Day of People with Disability.
"We are not just building this centre for children with disability – we are asking children for their advice on how to design this centre so they can use it for leisure and play so that parents and carers are confident this centre meets their child's unique needs and interests," Ms Burch said.
Mr Stuart thanked businesses who have given support to the project. The foundation was created after his daughter was diagnosed with autism.
He paid tribute to Channel 9 journalist Leila McKinnon, who he said had joined the board of directors.
Raiders players and local children with disability joined the launch.
"I am sure we will see on this site, in less than a year, a world class facility that will be hopefully the first of many we can build in partnership," Mr Stuart said.
"What began as a great challenge that not only my family is confronted with, has grown into a very important development that I am very proud to say will help other children and families. That is the important thing."
International Day of People with Disability is designed to increase public awareness, understanding and acceptance of people with disability and to celebrate their achievements.