New dorm planned at Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf


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The campus of the Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf is about to get a major makeover in the form of a new $9 million residence hall for students.

"We're very excited about this new building," said Don Rhoten, CEO and executive director of The Programs of WPSD, the school's parent organization.

Although school won't be in session, the 144-year-old campus in Edgewood will be abuzz this summer as the 50-year-old residence hall for boys is demolished to make room for the new facility. A dormitory for girls will be repurposed as a dining hall and snack bar.

The new 30,000-square foot residence hall will provide housing for 60 elementary through high school students and will be split into different pods by age group, Mr. Rhoten said. Floors for boys and girls will alternate, he said.

Each pod will house eight students and will include individual bedrooms with a common living area, kitchen and work space with Internet access.

"So it's going to be a home-like environment where the kids will be able to bond," Mr. Rhoten said.

Video phones will be available for students to call home, along with infrastructure for laptops and other electronic devices.

"We're hoping that it's completed for the start of the 2014-15 school year," he said.

WPSD is a nonprofit school that provides tuition-free services and instruction for deaf or hard-of-hearing children from birth through high school.

The school has 190 students enrolled, and about 40 percent use the residence halls, said Matt Campion, director of institutional advancement. About one-third of the student body lives in the eastern part of Pennsylvania, he said.

During a typical week, students arrive Sunday afternoon and return home by bus Friday afternoon.

"Parents entrust their children with us each week," Mr. Rhoten said. "For many students, the school is a home away from home. We make every effort to provide a residential life that provides support and encouragement to each child."

The existing dorms aren't wired to accommodate modern technology, such as visual and communications equipment needed by the students.

"It's not energy efficient either," Mr. Rhoten said of the old dormitory. "It would be very expensive to refurbish that building."

Mr. Rhoten hopes to obtain the highest LEED designation possible for the new building.

"We're planning to recycle as much as we can," he said. "We're also exploring the possibility of using geothermal heat."

The new building will be open, airy and bright, Mr. Rhoten said.

"This is probably going to be one of the biggest construction projects in this area," he said.

But, most importantly, he said, students were able to have input into the design process.

"This has been a great experience for them and gives them ownership and a sense of accomplishment in the project," Mr. Rhoten said about student feedback and ideas, some of which have been incorporated into the project. "This is the place where they will be living. It just makes sense to give them a voice in the planning."

Although the new residence hall will have everything that modern technology and innovation have to offer, officials hope it will still feel like home for the students.

"It will be warm and welcoming, too," said Gregg Bowers, chief operations officer for The Programs of WPSD.

To view the progress of the project, visit www.wpsd.org for a live webcam or see the school's Facebook page.

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Janice Crompton: jcrompton@post-gazette.com or 412-851-1867.


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