"The property is owned by the state Finance Cabinet," explained Mark Ryles, a Department of Education official who introduced the plan. "Normally, money from the sale of any property would go to the state's general fund, but the committee is recommending that money from any sales come back to KSD" to help pay for implementing the plan.
New auditorium proposed
Among the features of the plan are a new 400-seat auditorium, a student center added to Kerr Hall and a new elementary building. Also proposed are a redesigned campus entry from Second Street and a new traffic pattern that directs vehicles around the exterior of the campus instead of toward the middle. The Fosdick and Beauchamp buildings might be razed to make way for a parking lot.
The proposal also prioritizes which of the campus' older buildings should be retained. Jacobs Hall, the oldest structure and home to the state Deaf Museum, is the most important, followed by Walker Hall on the corner of Martin Luther King and Second Street. The lowest priority buildings are along Third Street, some of which haven't been used for 15 years and have fallen into disrepair.
About 175 people attended the meeting and 20 signed up to speak about the plan. Many had kind words for the proposal overall, but added emotional pleas to keep the campus intact and suggestions as to how some of the older buildings should be used.
"The design looks wonderful," said KSD graduate Jeff Kassinger. "I think the property and buildings should be sold or leased only to people who have an interest in the Kentucky deaf community."
Graduate Nancy Eggerton was among several people who suggested that Walker Hall be converted into a mental health center for the deaf and hard of hearing. Many deaf students who suffer from mental or emotional problems or substance addiction are currently sent to Florida for treatment and it would be much more convenient and cost effective to have a facility on the KSD campus.
Others said that a transitional group home needs to be established on campus to help graduates learn job skills and other training to help them make their way after they leave KSD. Other suggestions included setting up a continuing education and GED program on campus, finding a spot for the KSD Alumni Association and building a second gymnasium.
Several speakers make sentimental pleas
Teacher Barbie Harris, who has two deaf children, was among several speakers who made sentimental pleas to keep the campus as whole as possible.
"It is important for us to keep deaf culture. We have so much history here, especially Jacobs Hall," Harris said. "If we decrease the size too much, we would become like nothing. It would hurt. We cherish this school. It is so important to us."
Interim Principal Bill Melton said after the hearing that is understandable how many deaf students develop such a strong emotional attachment to the school. "This is their home, their real estate. They grew up here," Melton said.
But most also understand the "fiscal reality" that requires KSD to get smaller, he said.
KSD is currently home to 141 students, down sharply from the 450 students that were on campus when Melton arrived in 1976. About 80 percent of deaf children are now mainstreamed into public schools, he said. That big drop in enrollment has led to a substantial decrease in federal and state funding over the years, and fewer students and staff has meant that several of KSD's 18 buildings have gone unused or used only for storage. The older buildings and large campus area are expensive to maintain and create safety concerns, Melton said.
"It's obvious that something will happen that the campus will be modified," he said.
The planning committee hopes to have at least one more public hearing on the facilities proposal before taking it to the state Board of Education. Comments made at Wednesday's hearing will be incorporated into the record and could be used to modify the plan before it is submitted, Ryles said.
The plan is not final yet, Ryles told the crowd. Ultimately, it will be the state that decides KSD's future, he said, but that decision won't likely come until sometime next year.