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story.lead_photo.caption Construction on the new SOMO Training for Life campus in Jefferson City will begin in 2017.

Construction on the new Training for Life campus in Jefferson City will begin next year, now that the majority of funds has been raised.

Special Olympics Missouri (SOMO) announced Thursday that it had successfully completed a challenge to raise more than $15 million for the planned campus and new headquarters in Jefferson City.

In early 2015, SOMO officials announced the planned Training for Life campus project had been awarded to Jefferson City over a competing bid from Columbia. The proposal, submitted by the Jefferson City Area Chamber of Commerce, included 15.5 acres near U.S. 54 and Missouri 179 donated by Land Investments, which is run by Bud Farmer, Mike Farmer and Frank Twehous.

The organization had been trying to raise $15.8 million, which includes the roughly $3.3 million value of the land donation, to construct the campus. Last year, the organization received a challenge grant from the Mabee Foundation, of Tulsa, Oklahoma, that originally stated if SOMO was able to complete its fundraising by April 15, the foundation would award it $1 million.

However, SOMO was unable to hit that deadline and received an extension, which required the goal to be met by today.

Gary Wilbers, capital campaign chair, said Thursday that the goal had been met last week, meaning the organization can move forward and plan a groundbreaking in March 2017.

"I'm proud, excited, ecstatic, really, to be able to announce that we've achieved that $1 million challenge grant," Wilbers said, noting SOMO athletes were told last week of the news. "The athletes were pretty ecstatic."

Wilbers noted even SOMO athletes had joined in the fundraising campaign with 131 athletes raising more than $184,000 for the campus.

Wilbers said the organization has raised more than $16 million in cash, pledges and in-kind gifts so far, which allows for the facility construction to begin. However, fundraising is not coming to a halt, he said, as SOMO has yet to raise the funds needed for outdoor components of the campus, such as lights and turf. According to a news release, the organization still needs to raise $2.8 million.

"That allows us to build the Training for Life campus building to be able to host our central area, as well as our statewide, offices there, as well as some of the facilities," Wilbers said. "It really puts us in the position now to move forward but we're not going to stop raising dollars."

Wilbers said the organization plans to open the new campus by summer 2018. He noted the campus will be able to be used for camps and offices regardless of the progress on the outdoor fields.

SOMO's website for the planned campus highlights its economic impact on the area, stating the "estimated economic impact from tourism by athletes alone is expected to be between $227,124 and $378,541 in the first year of operation. In addition, one coach or chaperone usually accompanies every four athletes."

SOMO hopes to have 30 camps in the first year but would like to increase that amount in future years.

There will also be an increase in jobs at the campus as the central area office in Columbia will close and relocate to Jefferson City's location. Including the existing jobs at the current headquarters in Jefferson City, the campus will have 30 permanent jobs.

Anyone interested in donating to the SOMO Training for Life campus or learning more about the project can visit somocampus.org.

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