Thursday, August 1, 2013

Alums, preservationists fear Casper deaf-school demolition

Alums, preservationists fear Casper deaf-school demolition



The former Wyoming School for the Deaf is more than just an old building to some.
To Dan Frazier, who attended the school in the ’80s, it was a life-changing experience, he wrote in an email.
Julianne Orth, an alumna from the 1970s and ’80s, described learning sign language and playing sports on the playground at the school, which is attached to Pineview Elementary School on Payne Avenue.
“Wyoming School for the Deaf is very popular in the world,” she wrote in a letter.
They, other alumni and the Casper Historic Preservation Commission believe its future is in jeopardy, though, and are attempting to garner enough support to save it.
Hillary Lindmire, a member of the Casper Historic Preservation Commission, said state and local school officials assured the commission last winter that the school would not be torn down. But by spring, the group was told plans could include demolition.
Built in 1961 and opened to students in 1963, the school was designed by the local father-and-son architect team of Krusmark and Krusmark. Lindmire said the younger Krusmark had two children who were deaf who inspired his work.
Barbara Dobos, a member of the historic commission, said they designed it with the hearing-impaired in mind – the gym floor and rotunda helping to transit sound, for example.
The school closed in 2005 when students were mainstreamed into their local school districts.
Dennis Bay, the Natrona County School District’s executive director for business services, said the school district has an agreement with the state to provide maintenance for the building while the Wyoming Department of Education operates a library and resource center in the rotunda.
Pineview Elementary School is in the preliminary stages of reconstruction, which could separate it from the former school for the deaf.
“If we build a new building there, separate from the school for the deaf, the state then would take over all the maintenance and custodial duty for that building,” Bay said.
He said early conversations with the state Building Commission indicated the state did not have the money to continue caring for the former school and would prefer demolition. Bay said there is a possibility the new elementary school would include services for the deaf. The project is currently in the design phase, and the state has not yet allocated construction money.
Anthony Hughes, spokesman for the state School Facilities Department, said construction money won’t be in next year’s budget, which will be approved during the 2014 Wyoming Legislature’s budget session. The state, he said, has made no decisions about the future of the deaf school because plans are “premature.”
“There are really no construction funds available yet,” he said, “so there’s a number of options on the table.”
If demolition is an option the state pursues, Hughes said there will be a public hearing before the former Wyoming School for the Deaf is torn down.
Lindmire said a hearing is “good news” but doesn’t represent enough public involvement. She’d like a discussion about the possibility of incorporating the building into a new elementary school.
“One of our big concerns is just that the community hasn’t had a chance to actually weigh in on this,” she said. “It is a historic building, and it’s very important to the deaf and hearing-impaired community, as well as Casper.”
When the building was slated for destruction in 2007, the deaf community and supporters submitted about 7,000 signatures to the Wyoming Department of Education to prevent its demise. Lindmire said the state still intended to tear it down, but lacked the demolition funding.
The historic commission is interested in maintaining the building because it is an example of modern, mid-century architecture. Lindmire said it has a “butterfly roof” that peaks and slopes and a unique rotunda, where the library and resource center are currently located.
Lindmire lives in the area, which includes post-war World War II houses, and said the building acts as almost a centerpiece.
“It goes beyond just the school building, but also to the whole neighborhood,” Lindmire said.
It’s also indicative of historic education trends throughout the state. Lindmire said the connection to Pineview Elementary School was seen as a precursor to “mainstreaming” because students could attend classes at the elementary school while having access to special services.
Laura Ratcliff, who taught at the school for 14 years, said educators would pre-teach and review coursework that hearing-impaired students learned at Pineview.
“It was the first state school that really mainstreamed into the regular elementary schools,” she said. “It was a real new concept then.”
The school also served as a kind of second home to students, where they could communicate with teachers and peers. Ratcliff, who now teaches hearing-impaired preschoolers, said she still refers families to the resource center for books about deafness and sign language.
“It keeps us all connected,” she said. “Even though that we’re all separate right now.”

Source: Casper Star Tribune

No comments: