IM this article to a friend!

August 17, 2005

VSDB backers ready for state board members

From: Staunton News Leader, VA - Aug 17, 2005

Downtown, alumni want VSDB to stay put

By Erin Julius

STAUNTON — Ray Houser attended the Virginia School for the Deaf and the Blind for 13 years before graduating in 1947. He fondly recalls getting away from campus to visit various stores, restaurants and theaters in downtown Staunton.

"Being here in this particular city meant a whole lot to us," Houser said. "There is so much here to offer us ... restaurants, churches — everyone had their own church."

Houser, a 1947 graduate of the school's program for the blind, said Staunton's downtown is a good place to teach VSDB students and improve their mobility. "People take time to get out of the way, to be courteous," he said.

When the state Board of Education visits Thursday, Houser hopes its members agree with one thing: "VSDB should stay exactly where it is."

Shirley Robinson, owner of Grandma's Bait, agrees with Houser. She said few VSDB students frequent her shop, but they add to the downtown in other ways. "It is a unique opportunity [for them] to be in a small town and learn how to walk around."

VSDB's history is also an important factor for Robinson. "They are beautiful buildings ... I would hate to see it go," she said.

Kimberly Watters, executive director of the Staunton Downtown Development Association, also values VSDB.

"Obviously, the downtown wants VSDB to stay," she said. "It very much contributes to downtown through historic buildings and through the people it brings in," she said.

The SDDA supports historic preservation, and that is a big part of why Watters thinks it is important that VSDB stays open in Staunton, she said. More than just beautiful buildings, though, VSDB has "been a staple ... an anchor for Staunton," Watters said.

As Houser knows, however, it's a mutually beneficial relationship, and Watters recognizes that. "Students do come downtown — it's important to them to have a hands-on, real experience ... a true life experience in a real downtown," she said.

Watters wants the public to come out Thursday in a show of support for VSDB. "The more physical visual demonstration of support we can muster, the better." she said.

Copyright ©2005 The News Leader. All rights reserved.