Watertown's Perkins School brings classrooms into 21st century

WICKED LOCAL STAFF PHOTO/ ERIN PRAWOKO

WATERTOWN 3/02/11 Volunteer Liz Hazen shows Al Gasper, a 1955 alumn, around the functional skills classroom in the new Lower Campus building at the Perkins School For The Blind. Staff Photo by Erin Prawoko

By Laura Paine / Staff Writer Wicked Local Watertown Posted Mar 03, 2011 @ 08:23 AM WATERTOWN — The new Lower School building at the Perkins School for the Blind may be filled with more spacious classrooms and improved technology for teaching, but the students are most impressed by the talking elevators and the intercom system. After two years of planning and one year of building, the 54,000 square-foot school building was dedicated on its 182nd anniversary on March. 2. During the dedication ceremony, Lower School student Anicia Topian sang “Lower School Rock” to the tune of “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” to express her love of the new building and student Mark Saulenas used an iPad to tell attendees that he “really likes” to ride the elevator in the new school. “They love the sounds that the talking elevator makes, they love the intercom system,” Lower School Education Director Rob Hair said. “They mostly want to hear the lunch menu that I announce in the morning and if I don’t announce it they get really upset. They like the new features of the building and they have really adapted very quickly to it. It’s so amazing to be in this space.” Though the old building was both “wonderful and beautiful,” Hair said, it was not accessible for all 60 students it served. “It was built 100 years ago and it was built at a time when the kids that came here were all walking, talking, able to access the curriculum and read Braille,” he told the Watertown TAB. “Many of the students have different needs and ways of learning. We have all kinds of students with varying degrees of ability. We have these wonderful students and now a new building they that they can access all the bathrooms and all the classroom spaces.” Hair said that the sprinkler system and air conditioning makes the building safer, particularly for children with “fragile medical issues.” The facility features entrances and exits that are wheelchair accessible, larger specialized classrooms, an improved gymnasium and better spaces for teaching independent living skills and personal care. Board of Trustees member Al Gasper graduated from the Perkins School in 1955. He said he is impressed with the new building. “When I came up I thought there might be a little bit of mixed emotion because of remembering the old place, but I have seen the gradual change so it wasn’t quite what I thought,” Gasper said. “But I am impressed with what they have done.” The new building also includes several “green” features, including a rooftop solar power system, installed by SolarFlair Energy. The rooftop system is tied to the utility grid and converts natural energy from the sun into electricity, cutting back on the school’s electricity bill by more than 20 percent. “This is a time of a lot of economic challenge and a lot of schools and organizations are putting things on hold,” Perkins School President Steven Rothstein said. “We are moving forward. Today is a great way to show we are planning for the next 150 years.” Phase two of the project, renovating the original Lower School buildings to create dormitories, is currently underway. Laura Paine can be reached at lpaine@wickedlocal.com. Copyright 2011 Watertown TAB. Some rights reserved

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