By Marla Pisciotta For The State Journal
The West Virginia Schools for the Deaf and the Blind has not experienced significant capital projects in nearly 40 years, with the last buildings erected in the 1970s.
On top of that, the Romney schools have not experienced significant renovation in nearly 30 years with only one sizable renovation occurring to Seaton Hall in the 1980s.
That situation may change in the near future.
Due to an ongoing push from Delegate Ruth Rowan, R-Hampshire, the Legislative Oversight Commission for Education Accountability (LOCEA), is planning to visit the West Virginia Schools for the Deaf and the Blind Dec. 9.
The bipartisan delegation will be touring the campus to see firsthand what improvements are needed.
A $13 million line item is included in the state's annual budget to maintain the schools, but some locals have hopes of adding an additional line item that would fund the capital improvements and other needs at the schools.
“I'm very pleased that Delegate Rowan has continued to work so persistently with all stakeholders in this process to ensure this visit occurs,” said Lynn Boyer, superintendent of the WVSDB.
Rowan has kept the schools on the front-burner in Charleston by frequently bringing the students to the legislators — particularly the Tapestry and Mountain Melodies chorus that sings and signs.
“It's been a gradual process,” Rowan said. “I've been trying to make it personal, trying to build a connection between the legislators and the kids.
“The only way we're going to help these kids is to have the legislators see the campus and just (tell them) all the facts.”
Rowan said those sentiments were shared by House Speaker Tim Miley, D-Harrison.
Rowan said one of the plans school officials have is to make things more efficient by repairs such as fixing the downstairs of the secondary deaf building for elementary education and the upstairs for secondary deaf education.
“In doing that, advanced technology could be shared, utilities would be in one building instead of two,” Rowan said. “Now that we know the school will remain in Romney, we have to decide how we can me it the best place for our children.”
The proposed second line item in the budget would be a big-ticket item, she said.
In order to get the lawmakers' trip approved, the legislative oversight committee had to approve the trip. Then it had to go through the government and finance committees, due to expenses involved for mileage for delegates and senators, along with possible hotel costs.
“Different staff members in education and finance, lawyers and those actually writing up legislation for the schools will be attending,” Rowan said.
One of the items on the itinerary will include showing the delegation what the “short course” at the schools is all about.
The short course is when children from across the state with hearing and or vision loss that come to the schools sporadically for a week's stay to acclimate and see what and how the schools work.
During the visit, children experience the music program, recording studio and the school's own radio station.
“These are generally kids from families who aren't sure whether they want their children to live away from home,” Rowan said.
The week-long stay provides enough information and foresight that school officials hope to build up the long-term stay at the schools.
“Some of these kids will be at the schools during the Dec. 9 visit,” Rowan said.
In an earlier interview, West Virginia Board of Education President Gayle Manchin said Boyer has made dramatic improvements in terms of raising the bar and looking at the facility.
“We are fortunate to have this quality of schools,” Manchin said. “It's a wonderful school.”
The state BOE has worked with Boyer's plans to improve the curriculum and the buildings on campus.
“I'm looking forward to sharing with legislators the good work we're doing as well as our vision for the campus,” Boyer said.