During the January ninth meeting the Board discussed the
Schools’ master plan with Dr. Lynn Boyer, Superintendent, and some members
questioned whether it makes sense to keep the schools in Romney where they’ve
been located since 1870.
Boyer was surprised when state school board members brought
up the idea of moving the schools during a discussion about whether to request
$3.4 million from the legislature this year. The money would be used to match $1million
from the School Building Authority to renovate one of the classroom buildings
on the campus.
“That has not been a topic of conversation previously,”
Boyer said, “so I wasn’t prepared that day to offer very many answers to their
questions but I did not find it to be an unreasonable question to ask.”
The architect who designed the schools’ master plan, ZMM,
Inc. of Charleston, W.Va.,
is now collecting information on what it would cost to build a new school in
another location. Boyer said her next presentation to the board will include a
chart of costs as well as information on where children who are deaf and blind
live and how many attend the schools.
Boyer said moving to a central location could make attending
a more attractive option for some students, especially those living in southern
West Virginia. But there would be
more to moving that just buying property in the center of the state.
“We couldn’t just go look for the cheapest acres of land and
just go there,” she said. “There would be no advantage to going if all we were
doing is moving someplace and the children have nothing but their classrooms
and their dorm rooms. That’s not meeting the mission of the schools.”
Boyer said the schools have to be in or near a town that’s
large enough so students will have the opportunity to learn how to get around
outside the campus.
“For the blind students they’ve got to learn how to navigate
themselves in a community which means it’s got to have some means of at least
minimal public transportation, they’ve got to have some sidewalks to learn to
navigate, some buildings,” she said.
“Children who are deaf, or hard of hearing, have to have
enough of a community around them that they can begin to understand how they, as
deaf adults, eventually will manage,” Boyer added. “How will they bring their
own interpreters into a situation for instance? How will they communicate their
needs to a restaurant, to a job opportunity?”
So the architects are researching what it would cost to
build a new school in more populated areas like Marion
and Harrison Counties
and near Charleston, for instance.
“Clearly if we move somewhere then the items in our plan
that call for renovation and restoration of two historic buildings would not be
part of the costs,” Boyer said. “But by the same token if we stay here we don’t
have to buy land.”
The Schools for Deaf and Blind sit on nearly 80 acres next
to downtown Romney. Boyer estimates the schools would have to buy 20 to 30
acres for a new campus.
Currently about 120 students from 30 counties attend the
schools. The projected enrollment after renovations are made to the Romney
campus is about 175 but it’s not known whether a more central location would
help improve enrollment.
“It’s a hard, hard question,” Boyer said. “We’re at a time
when many counties believe they can serve their children and do. We know that
there are counties that try very hard but because of their own resources are
not able to provide the kind of services that we can provide.”
Boyer points out the schools are a long way from some parts
of the state where students live that might benefit from the services offered
“And we need to know whether our services would be accessed
if we were in another place,” she said.
By the time the next board meeting rolls around Boyer said
she’ll be able to discuss whether it’s more feasible to move the schools or
stay in Romney and that discussion will include what other states faced with
this issue decided to do.