Construction will start Tuesday on a $7 million office building near the Portland International Jetport in South Portland that’s on track to be leased to the Maine Department of Health and Human Services despite early controversy over the plan.

The contractor, Landry/French Construction Co. of Scarborough, expects to complete the two-story building by Dec. 31, which would give the DHHS one month to move its regional offices from downtown Portland.

South Portland officials issued a building permit on Wednesday and workers started digging the foundation soon thereafter, said Kevin French, vice president of Landry/French.

Workers will begin installing steel rebar in the foundation on Tuesday and finish pouring concrete by the end of the week, French said. Elevator pits will be drilled next week and steel beams and columns will start going up during the third week of May.

“We’re right on schedule,” French said Monday.

Landry/French is working for ELC Management Inc. of Portland, which is led by Eric and Kenneth Cianchette. Landry/French is building a $19 million expansion project at OceanView at Falmouth, a retirement community, and recently completed a $2.5 million medical office building in Topsham for Mid Coast Hospital, French said.

State officials signed a contract with ELC in January to lease space for the DHHS and the Maine Department of Labor in the planned 75,000-square-foot building at 151 Jetport Blvd. in South Portland. The building has since won all necessary approvals, including a traffic movement permit from the Maine Department of Transportation, which was issued on March 10.

The lease required ELC to secure permits by March 15 and start construction by April 16. Site preparation, including tree removal and access road work, started several weeks ago.

The two-story building with 452 parking spaces must be ready for occupancy sometime between Jan. 1, 2015, and Feb. 28, 2015, according to the lease.

The DHHS must vacate its offices at 161 Marginal Way in Portland by Jan. 31 unless it negotiates a lease extension with its current landlord. Otherwise, the agency would have to find interim accommodations if the South Portland building isn’t finished.

Portland officials and social service advocates protested the move, saying that the South Portland site would be too remote for many DHHS clients.

State officials said the 30-year lease on the South Portland building will save Maine taxpayers more than $23.4 million over the next three decades when compared with rent paid at the current Portland location.

The Cianchettes haven’t responded to repeated requests for comment since the selection of their proposal was announced in November. It was chosen over three other lease proposals submitted in response to the state’s advertised request.

Tom Toye, a Portland landlord who submitted an alternative proposal, filed a lawsuit in December challenging the state’s selection of the ELC proposal. Toye said Monday that his appeal seems to have stalled in Cumberland County Superior Court.

Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at:[email protected]Twitter: KelleyBouchard