Cottage Health Systems will begin a $45 million construction project today where St. Francis Hospital used to be in downtown Santa Barbara.

Cottage Health Systems purchased the property after St. Francis Hospital closed in 2003, but demolition work officially begins today. According to a Cottage Health Systems press release, the project is part of a work-force housing program intended to create affordable homes for Cottage Hospital employees.

The project will eventually yield 115 new homes, 81 of which will be priced below market value especially for Cottage employees.

Hundreds of individuals gathered at St. Francis Hospital earlier this month to commemorate the hospital’s long history of service in the community. The event included an awards program to honor exceptional individuals in the St. Francis community, including the hospital’s founders, the Franciscan Sisters of the Sacred Heart.

Although St. Francis Hospital closed its doors seven years ago, the St. Francis Foundation of Santa Barbara has continued to play an active role in the community. Last year the foundation donated $1.2 million to provide medical attention through the Cottage Care Nursing Outreach program.

“The St. Francis Foundation is the major funder of the Parish Nursing Community Outreach Program, operated by Cottage Health System, making it possible for Parish Nurses to meet the health care needs for thousands of individuals and families in Santa Barbara’s culturally diverse community each year,” the press release said.

According to the Andrew Ochsner, board president of the St. Francis Foundation, the foundation is looking to the future for new opportunities to assist the Santa Barbara community.

“While it can be easy to get lost in the incredible history and nostalgia of the hospital, we want to remind the community to cherish these memories while looking forward to the future,” Ochsner said in a statement. “We felt this moment should be marked as a beginning, not an end, as St. Francis Foundation carries on the spirit of hands-on care and compassion to the most vulnerable in our community.”