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Task Force To Examine Future Of Deaf & Blind Schools

statehouse_-_lauren.jpg

(Lauren Chapman)

Even after the legislature adjourns, a special task force will continue to examine the future of the Indiana School for the Deaf and the Indiana School for the Blind.

A Capital Needs Assessment for the Indiana School for The Deaf in Indianapolis estimated it would cost $62.1 million to upgrade facilities and infrastructure.  The same assessment said it would cost $34.7 million to fix the Indiana School for the Blind, also located in Indianapolis. 

According to the report, the parking lots and drive aisles at both schools are deteriorating.  Buildings facades, doors and windows, although in good shape will need to be replaced over the long term.

“If we’re going to continue to spend more money on maintenance and brick and mortar, is that really the best thing?  Those are dollars that could be going to reach more students in our community,” says State Senator Liz Brown (R-Allen County).

Brown sits on the task force which is considering whether finding a brand new home for both campuses would be more cost efficient.

“I think the task force’s goal was just to say let’s open the possibility of this,” says Brown.

Brown says demolishing buildings that aren’t being used to save costs of running the schools is also a possibility.

But some officials say moving the schools is being rushed because their land is a valuable real estate asset.

“We’ve always known this was very valuable property,” said Democratic state Rep. Greg Porter from Indianapolis, whose district includes the blind school. “I’m quite sure it’s a development play.”

Melissa Keyes, executive director of Indiana Disability Rights, who served as an advisory member of the task force, said the value of the two properties and whether they could be redeveloped was not discussed during meetings. But it’s “obvious that’s what’s playing into it,” she said.

“Sixty acres (near) Meridian-Kessler? It’s kind of hard to not recognize that that would be a prime piece of property if there wasn’t a school on it,” Keyes said.

But Brown, chair of the task force, said the group wasn’t focused on the real estate, but rather on how to best serve the schools’ students while being mindful of how taxes dollars are spent.

Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb said through a spokeswoman that he’s open to the task force’s recommendations. The task force has until end of year to make final recommendations to the State Budget Committee.

Want to contact your legislators about an issue that matters to you? Find out how to contact your senators and member of Congress here.

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