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July 1, 2005

Hampton left out of proposed plans for new consolidated school

From: - Norfolk,VA,USA - Jul 1, 2005

By ZINIE CHEN SAMPSON / Associated Press

The Virginia School for the Deaf, Blind and Multi-disabled in Hampton would close under proposals submitted by groups seeking to consolidate the two state-run facilities that educate students with sensory impairments.

The state received proposals from two groups seeking to combine the Hampton school with the Virginia School for the Deaf and Blind in Staunton into a centralized facility, according to documents provided by the Department of General Services.

Because of declining enrollments and increasing costs to maintain the aging facilities, the General Assembly this year approved an item in the state budget calling for the schools to consolidate.

One team of architects, builders and other experts calling itself Children First - Public Private Partnership LLC seeks to renovate the existing Virginia School for the Deaf and Blind in Staunton, to be ready for use by the start of the school year in 2007.

The other group, led by developer Trammell Crow Co., proposes that the state choose from three options: a new site in either Richmond, Charlottesville or Staunton; renovation, demolition, and new construction on the current Staunton campus; or renovation of Staunton's existing buildings.

Del. Chris Saxman, R-Staunton, said he thinks renovation of VSDB-Staunton is the way to go.

"The proposals to move would very much damage the deaf and blind communities" in Staunton, Saxman said. "You're really not gaining that much moving the facility to move to Charlottesville and Richmond. Land acquisition costs would be cost-prohibitive."

He said Staunton is near Interstates 64 and 81 and is more centrally located for students from northern or southwestern Virginia.

Neither proposal included Hampton, and some Hampton lawmakers and alumni spoke with Superintendent for Public Instruction Jo Lynne DeMary by phone Friday afternoon to discuss the consolidation project.

The group expressed its frustration with the process, said Ralph Shelman, executive director of the Peninsula Center for Independent Living, a Hampton alumnus active in efforts to save the school.

"The whole thing has been very confusing. The whole (consolidation plan) has been put out in obscurity," depriving Hampton supporters of an opportunity to organize properly, Shelman said. "No one seemed to know what was going on. If you really want my opinion, this confusion is a deliberate ploy on the part of those who want the school to be in the central part of the state."

A message left with the state Department of Education Friday evening wasn't returned.

The Board of Education will decide at its July 27 meeting whether to proceed with considering the proposals, which were submitted under the Public-Private Education Act, state Department of Education spokeswoman Julie Grimes said. The act encourages partnerships between public and private entities, so taxpayers don't have to foot a project's entire cost. The state budget allotted $61.5 million for such a project.

According to the budget language, the Board of Education will select a proposal by July 31, but Grimes couldn't say when an actual site for the consolidated school would be determined because there are many negotiations and reviews ahead.

"We're a bit away from there actually being a signed contract," she said.

Grimes wouldn't say that the Hampton school's exclusion from the two proposals means the school will shut down. She did say that no additional vendors will be accepted.

"There was nothing to preclude any vendor from anywhere from submitting a proposal," she said. "Why, for example, a vendor from the Hampton Roads area didn't offer a proposal, we just don't know."

Shelman said that the 40-day time frame between the request for proposals and the June 15 deadline didn't give most contractors enough time.

The Staunton contingent seemed much more savvy and better organized than their Hampton counterparts in responding to the consolidation threat.

"They started earlier, knew what had to be done and did it," Shelman said.

© 2005 WVEC Television, Inc.