The Elmer Square project is a joint development between Southend Council, Essex University and South Essex College, which will get new teaching facilities alongside the big library project.
Despite public spending cutbacks, the partners have found the cash needed to start construction.
The council will stump up £12.5m of the cost, the university £10.4m and the college £4m.
Construction work is expected to begin early next year and be finished by autumn 2013.
Architects ADP won the contract to design the new building last November and the main contractor will be announced later this year.
ADP partner Roger FitzGerald said: “The project will combine complementary uses for the council, college and university, which will be an exemplar and a trend-setter for similar schemes.
“It is set to be a really important cultural landmark for Southend.”
Sean Murphy at the London office of E C Harris is overseeing the procurement process. Prequalification documents and further information can be obtained by calling 0207 812 2007 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Contractors have until 8 July to obtain the necessary prequal documents.