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School for Deaf land sale pitched

DANVILLE — The Kentucky School for the Deaf would sell 108 acres of its campus and reinvest the proceeds into a new elementary school and other improvements, according to a plan presented Wednesday to the state Board of Education.

Selling the surplus property could generate an estimated $10 million to $12 million, according to the proposal submitted by the KSD Task Force that has studied how to keep the deaf school as a Danville institution. The task force includes a group of hearing and deaf people who tried to reach consensus. The state legislature will probably be asked for additional funding.

Members of the state Board of Education, which acts as the school board for KSD, were intrigued by the proposal.

"It's very encouraging to see that the local community here is taking leadership and suggesting avenues for us to pursue for these kids," said board chairman Joe Brothers of Elizabethtown. "But it goes beyond this school because this is a resource center for hundreds of kids across the state."

"The board is going to be very supportive of it, and I think the legislature will be, too," Brothers added.

The board took no action Wednesday, but Brothers said it will probably discuss the recommendations early next year.

Under the plan presented by Task Force Chairman Jamey Gay, KSD would reduce the size of its campus from 170 acres to 62 acres, which would also reduce the number of campus buildings from 17 to nine. That would require the state board to declare the acreage and buildings as surplus.

Most of the land proposed for sale is undeveloped. The task force recommended that the first property to be sold should be 55 acres on the southeast corner of campus. The task force says the market value for that property could be about $2.4 million.

KSD is already in negotiations to sell Bruce Hall and Barbee Hall to the Danville Independent school district, which now leases those buildings. The proceeds from that sale might be in the neighborhood of $875,000, according to figures presented to the board.

The single most valuable piece of property is on the corner of Second Street and Martin Luther King Boulevard. That 13-acre property, which includes Walker Hall's elementary classrooms and dormitory, could fetch as much as $6.5 million.

That's what it would cost to build a new elementary school on the southern quadrant of the campus, Gay said.

Jody Lassiter, president and chief executive officer of the Danville/Boyle County Economic Development Partnership, said KSD has already had some nibbles from interested parties seeking to purchase property.

Lassiter did not identify the prospects, but he said one is interested in building a "sports-athletic complex" for indoor sports close to Admiral Stadium.

Interest has also been expressed in purchasing Old Lee Hall, vacant since 1979, and Rogers Hall, vacant since 2001, for a project that would create "white-collar jobs," Lassiter said.

Other potential buyers of certain tracts might be the city of Danville and Kentucky ADAPT Inc., which stands for Assisting Deaf Adults to Participate Totally. That organization provides housing and work opportunities for deaf and hard-of-hearing adults.

Reducing the amount of property would reduce the cost of operations and would consolidate the campus to a central hub.

"It's really a return to KSD's origins as a compact, residential learning environment," Gay told the board.

Reducing costs is also important, as KSD's enrollment has declined. In 1978 the school had 450 students. Today it has 135, and only 75 of those live on campus. The rest attend classes during the day but go home at night.

Enrollment shrank as more students were "mainstreamed" into public schools, said KSD Principal Rodney Buis.

The shrinking enrollment meant that several buildings are no longer in use. Beauchamp Hall and Fosdick Hall, two dormitories built in the mid-1960s, are now used for storage of everything from furniture to stage lighting.

Gay acknowledged after his presentation that some have expressed concern that "we're not giving ourselves enough room to expand in the future if that were needed."

But he said the new master plan allows for growth up to 500 students.

The task force recommends that Jacobs Hall, Grow Hall and New Lee Hall should be retained for their historic and community value, Gay said.

Jacobs Hall, built in 1857, is the oldest and tallest building on campus. It houses a museum about KSD history.

The task force also recommends that the state develop a plan to fund the removal of several buildings from a power plant on campus that provides heat from gas- or oil-fired boilers.