Despite a yearlong delay and rapidly escalating costs, the Alexandria City Council voted yesterday to build a $4 million center that would provide 65 beds for the homeless and treatment for alcohol and drug abusers.

Council members reluctantly agreed after a year of bargaining to pay the federal government more than $1 million for a site in the Eisenhower Valley near the Capital Beltway.

The protracted negotiations blocked plans to open a shelter for the homeless this winter, forcing the city to rent motel rooms and subsidize church-operated shelters for the city's growing homeless population.

To speed up the project, City Manager Vola Lawson plans to begin construction months before the city officially takes ownership of the property, which is expected to be late next year. Lawson said site preparation will begin next month and construction should be under way by spring.

"Feeling a strong fiduciary responsibility, we spent a year trying to get the land as cheaply as we could," Lawson told the council. "We now have {the center} on the fastest track possible at the most reasonable possible cost."

The council voted unanimously to build the center, which will be located on Mill Road adjacent to a Metrorail repair yard. The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, which owns the site, has agreed to the sale and to let the city start work there immediately.

The center will include a 65-bed homeless shelter, a 36-bed alcohol detoxification center, a drug treatment clinic and offices for city Health Department programs that fight substance abuse.

The shelter will be the first such facility operated by the city. Alexandria officials voted in June to build a temporary shelter on the Mill Road site, but could not come to terms with the Transit Authority on a lease. Instead, the city is spending $166,000 on rented rooms and private subsidies this winter.

City officials estimate that more than 100 homeless people live on Alexandria's streets each night. Although the total is relatively small compared with the District, where the homeless number in the thousands, Alexandria's homeless population is growing and there are too few shelter beds to go around.

An elderly homeless man who lived in Alexandria for several years died sleeping under a truck last month when the area was hit by a surprise snowstorm.

The alcohol detoxification center and the other treatment facilites that will be part of the center are already in operation, but will be moved from four sites scattered around the city. The detoxification center will grow from 25 to 35 beds, Lawson said, because of increasing demand for its services.

"It makes sense to locate these facilities together because oftentimes the clients for each one are the same people," Lawson said. "Many of the homeless have problems with substance abuse.

"And we're paying rent on the space the clinics are in now. Our rent is going up soon, and it will be more cost effective for us to own the space."

The detoxification center, which is situated near West and King Streets, has prompted complaints from nearby residents. There are no homes near the new center site.

"The center will be appropriately placed where there are no neighbors to complain about people coming and going 24 hours a day," Lawson said.