Renovation of the institute for the deaf and blind “ahead of planned”

June 23 – Renovations to make room for an Alabama Institute for the Deaf and Blind at the former Lurleen B. Wallace Center along US 31 in South Decatur are ahead of schedule, according to institute officials.

The facility, on the 200-acre, multi-building campus, will provide services to approximately 3,500 deaf and blind people, approximately 75 of whom live on-site.

About 20 people toured the Alabama Institute for the Deaf and Blind (AIDB) North site this week to see the progress that has been made even as many construction projects have been slowed by pandemic-related supply chain issues.

Jeff Jobe, superintendent of Bailey-Harris Construction, said the decontamination and demolition of the Wallace Center’s gym and cafeteria has been completed and that roofing and interior wall construction is underway on at least 11 buildings on the property.

Jobe said it could take February 2023 to complete two dormitories.

“The dormitory apartments are designed in such a way that nine residents can live and study at a time,” he said.

The buildings are now concrete shells with leaky roofs. But the signs of progress are evident.

“Construction is currently a month ahead of schedule,” said Dennis Gilliam, Executive Director of Special Projects at AIDB. “Given the supply chain issues that everyone is experiencing, it is remarkable that the contractors have been on top of things. They were prepared for these issues and schedules and placed orders in advance.”

Senator Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, helped secure $28.6 million in state funding for the project.

“Renovation projects take time,” Orr said, citing the cleanup required when the project began in 2021 after years of decay and vandalism. “One of the key selling points in getting the state to reinvest in the site was that the buildings had good bones. And if we restored the flesh to those bones, it would be a lot cheaper than building new construction with tens of thousands of square feet of good space that will last for decades.”

In 2021, the Alabama National Guard, which has owned the property since 2015, turned over the property to AIDB after the guard decided it no longer wanted a training facility there.

Orr said the watch made about $7 million in improvements to the site before she left.

“The National Guard’s burial of utility lines and restoration of sewer lines are hidden contributions that AIDB can use to develop its campus,” Orr said.

John Mascia, president of AIDB, said the site should be “fully operational” in 18 to 24 months, with some programs still five years away.

“But we’re running select programs now,” he said. “We don’t wait to finish the whole project before serving people. We serve people when there is a need. A few hundred people are taken care of. … We really like to say ‘yes’. Many of the residents hear ‘no’ too often.”

A summer camp for blind and deaf students is being held at the site this week, focusing on Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) and Agriculture. Some students learned to fly sophisticated drones.

Candi Harbison, director of the Gallaudet University Regional Center, said she was impressed with what she saw during the tour.

“I’m really excited to see all the new buildings going up,” she said through an interpreter. “It’s nice to see what designs, ideas, visions have been brought here and how many partnerships we have here. Growing up, we would never have seen this type of facility.”

A network of agencies, including the nearby AIDB Decatur Regional Center, the Alabama Freedom Center for the Blind, the National Technology Institute for the Deaf, and the Gallaudet University Regional Center, are contributing to the renovations.

Mascia said AIDB North will provide services for infants through adults, primarily serving a population in Morgan, Limestone, Lawrence and Cullman counties.

Orr said students from surrounding states can also attend and benefit from the facility.

Gallaudet is a private liberal arts university based in Washington, DC for the deaf and hard of hearing. In addition to Talladega, Gallaudet has regional centers in Massachusetts, Texas and California.

AIDB North will offer three STEM programs—in mechatronics, robotics, and cybersecurity—and will host the Southeast STEM Academy program for students with hearing disabilities.

At the September groundbreaking, Mascia said it would hire about 25 to 50 employees in its early years, with annual salaries ranging from $30,000 to about $60,000 and government benefits. Mascia said there is a need for trainers in adult rehabilitation for deaf and blind people, social workers, Internet technology teachers, people with computer backgrounds and maintenance workers.

The Wallace Center was the State Department of Mental Health’s first regional development center. It opened in 1971 and the center’s last 40 patients were discharged when it closed in 2003. The National Guard announced it would build a training facility on the property in 2015, but those plans later changed.

Orr said in an effort to find a new use for the property, he visited the AIDB in Talladega in May 2020 with the idea of ​​allowing the Deaf and Blind Institute to improve and utilize the derelict facility.

[email protected] or 256-340-2442. Twitter @DD_Wetzel.

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