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Wisconsin School for the Deaf to break ground on new high school

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Catherine W. Idzerda
October 9, 2012

— Alex Slappey told his students never to give up—and with good reason.

Since 1974, the Wisconsin School for the Deaf has needed a new high school, something that would be "deaf-friendly" and meet the needs of students with multiple disabilities.

Now, almost 40 years later, the school is finally breaking ground on a $5 million building.

"We tried in 1974, and we tried again in 1984, but it didn't happen," said Slappey, the director of the Wisconsin Educational Services Program for the deaf and hard of hearing.

On Monday, Slappey spoke to students and staff at the school in American Sign Language.

When Slappey ended his speech, the crowd of students and staff gathered, raised their hands in the air and waved them back and forth to indicate applause.

Behind the students and staff stood Walker Hall, the three-story, 100-year-old building that probably will be razed.

The building doesn't meet code restrictions, it can't accommodate students in wheelchairs and it was designed for days when students sat in neat rows.

In addition, the building's electrical system isn't designed to handle the demands of computers, Smart Boards and other technology.

Cathy Edler, president of the Wisconsin School for the Deaf Alumni Association, recognized it would be hard to see the old building put out to pasture.

"Many people have memories of that building that they cherish," she said.

But students now will have the chance to create treasured memories in a more "deaf-friendly" building.

The new building will be built between the existing administration center and Pie Hall.

The 23,804-square-foot, one-story structure also will:

-- Connect with other buildings, including the health center and Pie Hall, to improve security and make 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 to provide "protected activity space" and natural light to classrooms.

-- Be more open.

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

About 70 students from across the state attended the high school from 2011-12.

Elementary-through-high school enrollment has been stable at about 120 students for each of the past five years.

The new high school will have a 100-student capacity, and no additional staffing beyond the current 25 instructors will be needed if enrollment reaches that level, Slappey said in a previous interview.

The state-of-the-art building also might help attract additional students, he said.



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