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Historic preservation commission wants to save deaf school - By Makayla Moore - CasperJournal.com
July 22, 2013 1:45 pm • By Makayla Moore
The Casper Historic Preservation Commission has begun an effort to save the former Wyoming School for the Deaf building from demolition
The building that housed the Wyoming School for the Deaf is in danger of being demolished with the planned rebuilding of Pineview Elementary School. It was built in 1961 on Huber Street as an addition to Pineview. The Wyoming School for the Deaf was operated by the State Department of Education from 1963 until it was closed for lack of enrollment in June 2005.
The former Wyoming School for the Deaf building meets Pineview in a V-shape, with each wing housing a separate school and meeting in the middle at the Rotunda.
The Rotunda is a large circular building which currently houses outreach services for the deaf and hard of hearing, including a library and resource center.
The building has many unique aspects as it was built for the needs of hearing-impaired children. The architects who designed the building, Krusmark and Krusmark, were a father and son team. The younger of the Krusmarks had a son that was hearing-impaired, so he was aware of the special needs of the population he was designing for. For example, the floor in the Rotunda is hollow, to allow the hard of hearing to feel the vibrations of others walking.
The Historic Preservation Commission indicated the State of Wyoming still owns and maintains the building, but the property is managed by the Natrona County School District. It was deeded to the State Department of Education from NCSD for “the express purpose of enabling grantee to erect and maintain on this property a school for deaf children, and in the event this property and any improvements thereon should cease at any time to be used for this purpose, then the property and all improvements thereon shall revert to the grantor and the interest of the grantee shall cease and be terminated.”
However, Audrey Cotherman, a current school board trustee, said she is not certain the state owns the building but she is quite sure they have not been maintaining it. Cotherman who has asked the district to look into it, said in her opinion the state cannot ask the district to provide space for them.
“We’ve had enough dictation from the state as for what to build and how to build it. When they begin to talk about tearing down historic buildings, we have to speak up,” she said.
According to Barbara Dobos of the Casper Historic Preservation Commission, in 2007, the public became aware of plans to tear down the School for the Deaf and in a very short period of time 7,000 signatures were collected on a petition to prevent the demolition of the building, which was enough to delay demolition.
With a planned construction project at Pineview, once again the Casper Historic Preservation Commission is hoping to save the building.
“There’s a conversation that it would be nice to have before it’s knocked down and it comes to light what a great building it was after it’s knocked down,” Dobos said. “There are so many great aspects to the building that make it special.”
A change in the focus of educating hearing-impaired students led to their integration into mainstream classrooms, which led to drastically declining attendance at specialty schools such as this one.
“We would really like to see the school repurposed and used in the community as a health clinic or a Montessori school. It really lends itself to that,” Dobos said.
The preservation commission believes that due to the building’s role in education of hearing-impaired students in Wyoming and its unique architecture, the building is eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. “A lot of people don’t see mid-century architecture as historic, but the requirement for a building is 50 years old and this one is,” said Hillery Lindmier of the Casper Historic Preservation Commission.
“To the school district’s credit, it’s a weird situation. It’s not their responsibility to take care of it; it’s just a little murky which doesn’t make the issue any easier,” Lindmier said.
The school district has said that if funding is received for construction, they’ll proceed with their design, which calls for demolition of both buildings and rebuilding a new Pineview.
“Right now the Department of Education can neither support nor continue to maintain that building,” said Dennis Bay, Executive Director of Business Services for NCSD.
Currently, NCSD is hoping to receive funding for the project as part of the 2014 state budget.
The Pineview building has some mechanical systems in need of overhaul as well as significant parking problems. There’s no circular drive to drop off and pick up students, as the building sits nearly on the street.
“The school district has done a wonderful job engaging the community and is willing to listen to people. It’s important to acknowledge that there are other buildings that are an important part of a community’s history. People may say ‘We don’t care,’ but giving the people the option will help. If they wait until the bulldozers come, there will be another angry outcry of people saying ‘We didn’t know this was happening,’” Lindmier said. “Even just saving the rotunda would be great.”
“I want them to save it all. If they can’t afford it, they can sell it,” Dobos said.
I feel very strongly about this school building being saved. This was my school for 7 years, the best 7 years of my life possibly. The school has changed my life for the better. It would be great to see the building saved as a historic building, and for the Library Services for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing to continue their services in this building. Teachers, parents, students, speech pathologists, etc. from all over the state use this library for materials and resource, with the librarian mailing out materials/resources frequently. It's an absolutely fantastic source of materials and resources for anyone that are deaf/hoh or associated with the deaf/hoh. It's also a very unique building, and it would certainly be a shame if it was demolished.