Wednesday, February 10, 2010

School for the Deaf could serve high school or college classes

School for the Deaf could serve high school or college classes

With the last remaining students probably heading elsewhere next school year, portions of the South Dakota School for the Deaf soon could be available for lease.

The Board of Regents plans to empty the classrooms after 130 years, sending the handful of remaining students to a mainstream school or another state's residential deaf school. The outsourcing and layoffs would save an estimated $678,000 next year.

The campus would continue to serve as the administrative hub of deaf education in South Dakota with offices for a dozen outreach workers. But much of the campus is likely to be leased out in the short-term, and perhaps eventually sold.

"There's an asset there. We want to put it to good and productive use," said Jack Warner, executive director for the Board of Regents.

One option, he said, is to start offering a small number of college courses there at night. The regents have space for more classes at the University Center on the northwest end of the city, but classes closer to downtown would be more accessible to many working adults looking to go back to school.

"Adults who are working are always looking for convenience," Warner said. "Certain key courses might be more convenient to help people get started."

In a report to appropriations legislators, the regents proposed leasing portions of the facilities to "local government entities." Warner said he had no specific projects in mind.

But the Sioux Falls School District might be a decent fit. One mile from the deaf school, Joe Foss Alternative School had 405 students in fall 2009, up from 301 the previous year.

The building was reconfigured to make room for the influx of students, and now officials are looking to relocate two Joe Foss programs.

A program for middle school students who misbehave could better serve students at one of the middle schools, Director of Instructional Support Services Bill Smith said. He also wants to move the Out-of-School Suspension Alternative out of Joe Foss to a more accessible building.

Smith said administrators must make more growth projections before figuring out which programs to move and to where.

"We do not have a place pre-determined that we're going to put those programs," he said.

Selling part of the campus also is an option. The county equalization office estimates the 14.35 acres are worth $9.99 million.

Because the land was donated, sale proceeds would go to the School and Public Lands Endowment and the investment earnings put back into deaf education.

"Any number of options are possible. It could be sold, but we need legislative approval to sell it," Warner said.

That certainly won't happen this session as the regents are focused on making sure their transition plan for deaf education is palatable to lawmakers.

"Our first priority is to figure out how we can continue to provide services ... and then we'll get to the facility itself," Warner said.

If and when the property does go on the market, it is sure to attract interest. It sits on the high-traffic East Tenth Street, and the buildings generally have been well-maintained.

"It's a great location, a great campus," said commercial real estate agent Craig Lloyd of Lloyd Cos.

"It's got some possibilities for the right project."