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December 9, 2004

House speaker: School for deaf, blind should remain in city

From: Staunton News Leader, VA - Dec 9, 2004

Plan suggests consolidation

By Jamie Kennedy/staff

STAUNTON —Just before her students began playing a quiz game on Colonial America, social studies teacher Karen Stinson talked to visiting state delegates about the large screen where the questions would appear.

"It's wonderful technology," the Virginia School for the Deaf and the Blind teacher said of the newest version of the SMART Board. The touch-sensitive display connects to a computer and digital projector to show an image.

The technology was just one aspect of the threatened school that teachers and administrators wanted the visitors to see Wednesday.

House of Delegates Speaker William Howell, R-Stafford, toured the campus with Del. R. Steven Landes, R-Weyers Cave, and Del. Chris Saxman, R-Staunton.

In 2003, seven of 12 people on a state-appointed task force voted to close both VSDB schools, in Hampton and Staunton, and build a new facility.

Last week, state officials released a plan to consolidate the two facilities by 2007. The report did not list any possible locations but said the current schools would not work because their buildings and energy systems are outdated.

It also said new design standards cannot be met at the schools and the new campus is to be "state-of-the-art."

But Landes and Saxman have said the state should renovate the VSDB-Staunton school and consolidate there.

During the tour, Howell told students he agrees.

Seniors Ivy Bennett and Alicia Ronero, both 18 years old, told the delegates through an interpreter that their school should stay open.

"Building a (new) school is really a waste of money," Bennett said.

Ronero said the deaf community is a part of Staunton. "The history's here," she said.

Their teacher, Bobbie Dietz, told the delegates that when the school needs substitutes, retired teachers and other deaf residents are available.

"In a new location, where are the deaf role models?" she asked through an interpreter.

During the tour, the politicians asked questions as they visited classrooms in the deaf and blind departments, dormitories, the cafeteria and other areas on campus.

Afterward, delegates said it seemed the state could renovate Staunton-VSDB for a lot less money than it would cost to construct a new school.

"To just uproot it ... doesn't really make a lot of sense," Howell said.

As for the benefits of preserving the strong ties between Staunton and the VSDB community, "you can't measure that in dollars and cents," he said.

Saxman said he and Landes invited Howell to tour the campus so the speaker of the house could see the school first-hand.

The next step toward putting the consolidation plan into action would be for the governor or the General Assembly to submit amendments to the budget in December and January, respectively, said Ellen Qualls, the governor's press secretary.

Copyright ©2004 The News Leader. All rights reserved.