Janesville47.1°

Plan emerges for Wisconsin School for the Deaf

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Catherine W. Idzerda
October 28, 2011
— In 1911, only a small percentage of deaf students went to school.

In 1911, educating children with multiple disabilities was unheard of.


And in 1911, Smart Boards, Wi-Fi, iPads and laptops were unimaginable.


Those are a few of the reasons being given for replacing 100-year-old Walker Hall at the Wisconsin School for the Deaf in Delavan.


On Thursday, representatives from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction and Ayres Associates, the Madison-based engineering firm, presented the draft environmental impact assessment of the project.


The meeting at Kastner Hall on the school’s campus also gave the community a chance to learn more about the project.


“The building is intended to replace a building that’s 100 years old,” Superintendent Alex Slappey said in an interview before the meeting.


A century ago, a three-story building with a traditional layout worked best.


Now, more than half of students have multiple disabilities, including some who are in wheelchairs. The building has an elevator, but it doesn’t meet fire and safety codes, Slappey said. He’s also concerned about getting students out of the building in a fire.


The main electrical system dates to the 1950s and can’t handle the electrical load imposed by such commonly used technology as Smart Boards, computers and laptops.


Technology is critical for the school, Slappey said.


“Deaf children are visual learners,” he said.


“It was part of a long-range plan in the 1970s, and it was considered again in 1984,” Slappey said. “But we didn’t get it then.”


The new building, which would cost an estimated $5 million, would be built between the current, triangle-shaped administration center and Pie Hall.


The 23,804-square-foot, one-story building would:


-- Connect with other buildings, including the health center and Pie Hall, improving security and making it easier for students to get around campus.


-- Create 15 classrooms for up to 105 students and 14 to 16 full-time staff members.


-- Include an interior courtyard that would provide “protected activity space” and natural light to classrooms.


-- Provide a “grand hall” for socializing and events.


-- Include offices for administrative staff and school counselors and a break room for teachers.


Site plans will next go to the State Building Commission on Nov. 16.


If approved, construction could begin in May 2012, and the project would be completed before the start of the 2013-2014 school year.


Asked if his students are excited, Slappey said staff members hadn’t “pushed it too hard” and are waiting for final approval.


“I think they’re thinking, ‘We’ll believe it when we see it,’” Slappey said.



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