Work to create a new research and education facility at Mote Marine Laboratory's Summerland Key property could be begin in January.
The nonprofit organization intends to demolish all three buildings in stages, beginning with replacement of residential and office structures.
"The current laboratory facility will remain in operation until a new lab is built. We've worked very hard to ensure that the construction will minimize impact to the heart of Mote's Summerland Key facility, which is its lab," said chief architect Glenn Darling of Hall Architects.
"This new research facility in the Florida Keys will significantly enhance our ability to serve as a center of excellence in marine science, education and conservation-addressing the global threats facing coral reefs," Mote President Michael P. Crosby said in a statement.
The rebuilt center will enable Mote to "better understand the impacts of disease and climate change on corals," Crosby said, and "mitigate these threats by directly supporting the restoration of Florida's coral reefs."
The complex at mile marker 24 is the southernmost marine laboratory in the continental U.S., according to Mote.
The Sarasota-based organization describes the construction process: "Expansion will involve constructing one new building on Mote's existing property on Summerland Key, which currently includes three buildings.
"Two residential buildings will be demolished, leaving the current working lab fully operational throughout construction. Once the new project is 99 percent complete, the old lab will be demolished and replaced with parking."
New systems will include advanced technology laboratories; environmental control rooms; improved seawater systems; ocean-acidification research facilities; and experimental tanks and instrumentation.
When finished, the complex will have 6,505 square feet of laboratory and offices, plus two residential apartments and six dormitory rooms. It is expected to open in 2017.
The Summerland site already held rights for nine residential units under Monroe County's growth ordinance.
Mote has raised more than $1.5 million toward the project's cost and secured a $5 million loan to ensure construction.
Staff and researchers at the Summerland Key site have helped pioneer several techniques in coral restoration.
"These techniques give us confidence that full-scale [coral] restoration is possible in our lifetime," Dr. Dave Vaughan, director of Mote's Keys facility said.
"Now, more than ever before, we find ourselves in need of new facilities to continue our research," Vaughn said. "Our reefs cannot wait any longer."