Deaf alumni saddened by school's fate
By MEGHAN WATT
Star-Tribune staff writer
Note: Meghan Watt attended the Wyoming School for the Deaf from 1991 to 1998. She graduated from Kelly Walsh High School in 2004 and is a community news clerk for the Star-Tribune.
The Wyoming School for the Deaf building in Casper will be torn down as part of the Natrona County School District's plans to build a new elementary school to replace Pineview Elementary.
Deputy State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joe Simpson announced the news Thursday in Cheyenne. He told a small group of deaf community members "both buildings have lived out their life expectancy" and that a new school is necessary, as Pineview is beyond repairs. The Natrona County School District owns the land on which the School for the Deaf was built, and the district wants to use that space for the new school.
Some deaf alumni are upset or shocked over the plans, as the deaf school was important in their education and lives.
Kathleen Holmes, one of the first students of the deaf school, told the Star-Tribune in an e-mail message, "It's indeed sad that all the memories and the historical site of the Wyoming School for the Deaf will be wiped out when it's torn down! We held our 50th Anniversary Reunion at WSD last summer."
Catherine Burns of Casper, who also was a student, said, "I think Casper should not tear down the building because it represents us (the deaf students/community) and our memories. Every time I go to WSD, it brings me back to the old time to keep memories alive. Once it is down torn, people will think it never existed."
Josie Wedlock, a former student who now lives in Fort Collins, mentioned that she was shocked when she heard of the news. "I really don't want them to take down the school. I'm just hurt about this. This school meant a lot to me."
While the deaf school building will be torn down, the Services for the Visually Impaired and the Outreach for the Deaf Library will still be available at another location, Simpson said. An archive or a small museum will be added on to the library and resource center for those who want to share their memories.
The design of the original portion of the Wyoming School for the Deaf building is unique. Mark Bennett, a former school for the deaf student and a member of the Deaf Association of Wyoming expressed that he would like to see the new location for the library to have the same "roundness" that the deaf school has.
He also would like to see a meeting room of some sort within the new location, but that will depend on how much space is provided for the library and archive.
Before the School for the Deaf was built, deaf students were educated in temporary classrooms at Casper College and East Junior High. In 1959, a house across the street from Pineview Elementary was purchased and used as a school for the deaf. By 1961, the state legislature appropriated $250,000 so that a more permanent school for the deaf building could be built.
The deaf school was built adjacent to Pineview Elementary so deaf students could be integrated with hearing students whenever possible. It was on January 3, 1963, when the staff and students moved into the new building. The School for the Deaf was closed the summer of 2000, as only one student was enrolled and other deaf and hard of hearing students were mainstreamed into public schools with services.
The original building continued to be used as a library and resource center for the deaf since the closing.
Once the new elementary school has been built, a memorial bench, plaque or other type of recognition will be created and placed on the location where the deaf school building stood. Janine Cole, an outreach consultant for the Wyoming Department of Education's services for the deaf and hard of hearing, thinks it is important that a memorial is placed on the property to honor the School for the Deaf.
Simpson is encouraging the School for the Deaf alumni and the deaf community to get creative and share ideas of what the memorial should be as their ideas will be taken into consideration. The state will try to organize a committee for the alumni to discuss memorial ideas.
An archives Web site for the deaf school is in the works. Until then, Cole will see that a Web site is added to the State Department of Education's website. This site will be updated as information becomes available, and will include a way for people to express opinions about the demolition plans.