NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ - A landmark program at Rutgers University serving adults with autism will get a new center under a proposal that gained approval Wednesday from the university board of governors.

Board members approved plans for the construction of a $9.8 million center on the Douglas campus that will serve as the permanent location of the Rutgers Center for Adult Autism Services.

Rutgers officials said the two-year-old center is the first of its kind at a higher education institution in the United States.

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Currently, the center provides employment, vocational training and other services to 12 participants who commute from home, university officials said. Construction of a larger facility will enable expansion of the program to accommodate 30 participants.

“We are committed to serving adults with autism by providing meaningful paid employment, full integration into the Rutgers community and ongoing research and training related to helping adults with autism lead full lives," said Christopher Manente, executive director of the center.

"We serve as a model that can be replicated at colleges and universities, or within small communities across the country," Manente said.

The current participants now have paying jobs on campus and work five days a week in food service, horticulture maintenance, university mail services, document and records management, the Rutgers Cinema, and computer retail services, among other areas, the university said.

The people in the program also receive individualized services to help them succeed on the job and maintain their independence in the community, Rutgers officials said.

The new proposed facility,  to be constructed at the site of the former Corwin Dormitories on Nichol Avenue between Comstock Street and Dudley Road in the city, will include a multifunctional room and vocational training space, administrative offices for faculty and clinical staff, and support spaces and provide community-based job training, life skills and recreational opportunities.

Rutgers will use donations to cover the costs for construction, which are expected to begin later this year.