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Renovations announced for Arkansas deaf, blind schools

The renovations for Arkansas Deaf and Blind Schools are planned to have "state-of-the-art facilities."
Josie Lenora
Little Rock Public Radio
The renovations for Arkansas School for the Deaf and the Arkansas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired are planned to have "state-of-the-art facilities."

The Arkansas School for the Deaf and The Arkansas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired will undergo renovations. Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders made the announcement Wednesday following months of concern from lawmakers and alumni over the quality of the buildings and infrastructure at the schools.

In October of last year, state lawmakers visited the schools. State Sen. Clarke Tucker, D-Little Rock, wrote a Twitter thread describing the facilities as having fallen into “disrepair.” He said students are prevented from swimming in the pool because pieces of the roof may fall in. Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders found the same problems when she visited the school.

“Crumbling exteriors,” she said. “Leaky and drafty interiors, overseen by just a handful of staff with significant security, health and safety concerns.”

The governor was impressed by the employees who worked there.

“We met with some of the most dedicated educators I’ve ever had the privilege of meeting,” she said. “We saw students for whom these schools are the only option for a quality education.”

The schools will undergo a renovation using $30 million already set aside by the legislature in 2021. The new plan will partially intertwine services between the two schools, leaving them with one superintendent and two principals, both overseen by the Department of Education.

The plan will update existing infrastructure, also creating a new shared dining, health and administrative facility in the middle of the property, as well as new communal spaces.

Robert Fagan is the chairman of the board overseeing both schools. He called the announcement of the renovations a "Valentine's Day gift.”

“You know, our schools are old,” he said. “They were built in the late 1800s and 1900s. I've heard stories of people using duct tape and paperclips to fix things around there.”

The governor said the schools were built as a “promise” to students with impaired sight or hearing that they “deserve” a good education like everyone else. Because of this, Sanders said she wants the renovations to begin “as soon as possible.”

Josie Lenora is the Politics/Government Reporter for Little Rock Public Radio.