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November 3, 2002

N.M. School for the Deaf Hopes Voters Hear its Needs

From: Santa Fe New Mexican, New Mexico
Nov. 3, 2002

By DIANA HEIL | The New Mexican 11/03/2002
Santa Feans came out in force more than two years ago with a message: Keep the New Mexico School for the Deaf here.

The school's board of regents in 2000 voted to follow that suggestion after considering proposals to move the main campus to Albuquerque, build on school land near the Tierra Contenta subdivision or relocate to a vacant hospital facility in Los Lunas.

Established in 1887, the publicly funded school has long been a landmark on Cerrillos Road. Now, however, the decaying campus needs an estimated $34 million overhaul.

If voters approve Education Bond B on Tuesday, the school will have the $5 million it needs to build new dormitories by August 2004. Currently, 80 of the school's 110 students - ages 5 to 22 - live in the "cottages." Cartwright Hall was built in 1917. Connor Hall was built in 1928.

Superintendent Ron Stern said the old dormitories won't be torn down. Instead, parents and other visitors will use them.

The dorms are occupied 11 months out of the year by students, summer program participants and deaf education professionals on campus for training.

In 2000, voters approved a general-obligation bond that provided $850,000 for the school to fix or replace leaky roofs.

Now the top priority in the school's eight-year master site plan is construction of new residential units. The new dormitories will resemble duplexes, with two units in each of five buildings.

"When the dorms were constructed in the early 1900s, we had as many as 15 kids sleeping in the same room," Stern said.

Currently, four students share a bedroom. In the new dorms, only two students will share a bedroom. The architecture will be "deaf-friendly," which Stern described as bright, airy and open. Student housing will offer computers with Internet access and doorbells that light up.

The dorms will be built toward the rear of the campus, far away from the Cerrillos Road traffic that poses dangers now for students, Stern said. Over the past two years, the school's enrollment has increased more than 20 percent, Stern said. And the school's role is growing statewide as well, through outreach to 58 out of 89 school districts in the state and as part of a state task force on education of the deaf and hard-of-hearing.

"I'm cautiously optimistic," Stern said about the bond issue. "People's priorities are different in uncertain times. We're a small portion of the Bond B pot. We will all either sink or swim together."

The threat of war and an economic slump could make the outcome of the education bond less predictable than usual, he said.

If Bond B fails, the School for the Deaf will either approach the state Legislature for help or consider selling 261 acres it owns near Airport Road, Stern said.

"I shudder to think of that possibility," he said. "Our needs are so great that we truly need Bond B."

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