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VINTON, Iowa - Supporters of the Iowa Braille and Sight Saving School in Vinton say the historic school is once again in danger of losing both its mission and employees. But at the same time, there's the possibility an idea by state regents to create regional disability centers could actually add to the work force. It just all depends on future state decisions.
Currently, students in Iowa with hearing disabilities can get special services for the deaf at Council Bluffs. Those with visual impairments depend on the faculty and facilities at the braille school in Vinton. But the Iowa Board of Regents is investigating a plan to create up to five smaller, regional centers to serve both groups of students and families. And braille school supporters say it's critical to make sure their historic facility gets on the list of regional centers, if that's the plan for the future.
The school in Vinton has seen a lot of changes in nearly 150 years. At one time, students lived on campus while learning. Now, about 30 instructors are based at the braille school and go out to assist nearly 300 visually-impaired students in their own school districts.
But students still come to Vinton in the summer and on weekends to learn independent living and other skills.
Ann Jorgensen, a volunteer for the braille school and former regent, said the best argument for keeping Vinton as a facility is economic.
"I think one of the biggest things is going to be cost. It would be a lot simpler to keep costs down by maintaining a regional center here," Jorgensen said.
Jorgensen said the braille school has built up specialized facilities over the years that could be lost if regents pick someplace else as one of the smaller regional centers for both deaf and blind students. While it's not a plan yet, state regents have talked about setting up the regional disability centers within an hour's drive of anywhere in the state.
But while there is the potential loss of jobs, and role as a school for the blind, there is also opportunity if Vinton is selected as a regional site.
Don Boddicker, braille school business operations manager, said that would mean adding staff to service those with hearing impairments.
"You're not going to be talking about a large employment increase. But anywhere from six to eight new employees on board if it's a regional center," Boddicker said.
Regents could receive a report from a committee and potentially make a decision as early as December. So supporters, including those involved with economic development, say it's time to organize a letter writing and e-mail campaign now. Nathan Hesson, director of Vinton Unlimited, said he's sure the community would rally around any plan that preserves, or expands, the Vinton school.
"Just the history we're had for so longI think our residents will step up and will make this a fight and will fight to keep it here," Hesson said.
Organizers planned a meeting Wednesday evening to discuss strategy. But the real main event takes place Monday, October 22nd. A state regents committee charged with investigating regional disability service centers is planning a statewide video hearing that evening. Those in the Vinton area can come to the Iowa Braille and Sight Saving School, 1002 G Avenue Vinton, between 5:00 and 7:00 p.m. to ask questions and offer comments on the proposed plan.