Facilities (Learning Spaces)

The Next 100 Years

Historic Jones and Palmer Halls

PHOTO COURTESY OF RTA ARCHITECTS AND TERRY SHAPIRO PHOTOGRAPHY

Colorado School for The Deaf And The Blind (CSDB), significant for its educational and historic contributions to Colorado Springs and the state of Colorado, is moving toward its 150th birthday with improved structures for providing critical services to the state’s deaf and blind students. When completed, Jones and Palmer Halls will provide homes for the Colorado Instructional Materials Collection (CIMC) and the school’s Bridges to Life Program.

In keeping with a Master Plan designed by RTA Architects in 2014, and funded by the Colorado State Legislature, historic buildings Jones and Palmer Halls are currently being revived and repurposed. Both century-old buildings, designated by the State of Colorado as part of an historic district, have been underutilized and not appropriately matched to student program needs, according to the architects and the school. The new plan will condition, reorganize and improve the use of space in both buildings, while bringing them up to current life safety and program standards.

Design and planning for Jones Hall was launched by RTA more than one year ago with careful attention to preserving the original architecture of notable Colorado Springs architect, Thomas MacLaren. According to RTA’s lead architect Ken Gregg, the historic importance of the buildings required thoughtful consideration in the new design. “We carefully considered the historical context of each design element. For example, exterior openings and window replacements are designed to match historic photos. The exterior entry courtyard is designed to maintain the historical symmetry of the building and the exterior grand entry stair while also creating strong connections to the rest of the campus.” With design now complete, General Contractor HB Construction will start the build-out, slated for completion by summer.

Jones Hall: Braille and Large Print Library Consolidated

Housed on the CSDB campus and run by the State of Colorado, the Colorado Instructional Materials Collection (CIMC) is the repository and source for the state’s braille and large print collection for Colorado K-12 students with visual impairment, including blindness. Currently serving 60 school districts, the CIMC collaborates with other states, lending and borrowing braille texts whenever possible. CIMC also produces braille books when they aren’t available elsewhere in the nation-wide network, and provides instructional materials and devices for students throughout Colorado. Jones Hall, previously relegated to storage and overflow for varied departments, will become the home of CIMC and the entire braille and large print collection.

CIMC’s staff offices and braille production areas will be located on the top floor of Jones Hall. The braille, large print and adaptive device collections will be housed on all three floors at the east end of the structure using high density storage accommodating approximately 7,775 linear feet of shelving. “This required careful engineering to accommodate the additional storage loads within the existing historic structure,” Gregg explained. “A steel frame was incorporated within the existing masonry and concrete structure to support the upper floors of high density storage.”

The first floor of Jones Hall will provide space to support shipping and receiving of materials to and from school districts. Floors 2 and 3 will have conference and training rooms as well as two new guest suites set aside for visiting parents of students enrolled at or visiting CSDB and other campus guests. A shared conference room will also be located on the second floor, and this space will be the first one that a visitor will encounter when stepping off the elevator.

Separated from the corridor by open glass for visual connection, this space will also function as the low vision clinic. The clinic, in conjunction with the uniquely fitted conference room, will allow these students to try out prescribed adaptive devices to ensure the best possible solution for each child.

The exterior design of Jones Hall includes the addition of an at-grade accessible entrance. This new building entrance, along with a new elevator, will increase the usability and access to all portions of the building. During the Jones build-out, RTA will design the renovations for Palmer hall. That design will go out to bid for a general contractor early this year with proposed completion for summer of 2018.

Palmer Hall: Moving Up the Ladder of Independence

Palmer Hall will be fully renovated and will house CSDB’s Bridges to Life program. Bridges to Life serves students between the ages of 18 and 21 who are deaf or hard of hearing and blind or visually impaired, most of whom have met their high school graduation requirements. The program supports them in bridging the gap between high school and the real world, emphasizing the three key areas of education, employment, and independence. Palmer Hall will assist in all three of these areas with a primary focus on independent living.

Palmer’s residential areas will be expanded and refined to more closely approximate apartment living. As students increase in confidence and life skills the building design and apartment configuration allow for increased independence and closer simulation to real world living experiences. The lower floor provides a more structured living environment to meet the needs of students requiring additional assistance and a common area to be shared by all students living in Palmer Hall. The common area is designed as a multi-purpose space, providing for social and educational needs of students in the program.

“The design team looks to marry the historic context of Palmer with a contemporary aesthetic that students will embrace and be proud of,” said Gregg. “Palmer’s commons space will be designed for flexibility to accommodate varying sized groups and activities. The room can transform from a student living room to a lecture configuration. Even the common area furniture will lend itself to mobility and will be studentcentered. For example, we are using hanging ‘egg’ chairs. Egg chairs are configured to allow a single person to hang inside an eggshaped intimate enclosed space that fosters privacy and personal connection. The chairs create a place for students to get away from it all,” said Gregg.

In the common area kitchen, a large, semicircular demonstration island can be used by students as a social gathering place as well as for cooking instruction and demonstration. A large format TV will project demonstrations or allow students to enjoy their favorite programs while preparing a meal.

Gregg added that “The entire team is appreciative of the funding and continued support from the state legislature. Projects of this nature when completed have proven to have a long and significant impact on the ability of the school to provide the education and environment these extraordinary students deserve.”

This article originally appeared in the February 2017 issue of School Planning & Management.

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