The historic, collegiate gothic architecture of the Colorado School for The Deaf and The Blind is taking on an "in with the old, in with the new" look.

Multimillion dollar renovations to buildings on the stately campus east of downtown Colorado Springs are preserving the past while bringing 21st century benefits to the 143-year-old school.

"It's really important we do that," said Carol Hilty, who's in her 13th year as superintendent. "Working with buildings that are 100 years old has limitations, but we're able to make changes to meet the needs of our students today so they can have pride" in where they learn and live.

About half of the school's 220 students, ages preschool through 21, reside on site and are from around the state. Others are locals who are bused in from area school districts.

"The student population we serve is a microcosm of what you'd see in any other school district, other than they might not see or hear," Hilty said. "Some require assistance, and some are more independent."

The school was opened in 1874, by a father of three deaf children. Blind students were added in the 1880s. It's now one of 12 state schools in the nation that serve deaf and hearing-impaired, as well as blind and visually-impaired students. It's Colorado's only such school.

Hilty calls the model "advantageous foresight by forefathers," as some students have both sight and hearing difficulties.

Facing west on Institute Street, the 37-acre campus contains buildings that frame a large front lawn and are positioned to accentuate views of Pikes Peak, said Brian Calhoun, a principal with RTA Architects, which is working on the renovations.

"The school's center faces Kiowa Street and aligns with Pikes Peak, and you see downtown from buildings flanking the north and south," he said.

The campus is listed on the Colorado State Register of Historic Properties as a district, with many of its 17 buildings noted.

The designation "requires honoring the character of the exterior and maintaining the look while remodeling the interiors," Calhoun said.

Much of the limestone and other stone used in construction was sourced locally, he said.

One reason for its historical significance is that the campus has one of the highest concentrations of intact collegiate gothic architecture in the state, said Kevyn Brown, the school's facilities manager.

Notable Colorado Springs architect Thomas MacLaren designed some of the buildings, with picturesque towers, elaborate carvings, grand stairways, rounded eyebrows framing doorways and other elements inspired by medieval Gothic architecture.

Open atrium benefits deaf

The state supplies most of the school's $14 million annual budget and is picking up the tab for the improvements, which were born out of a 2014 master plan that RTA Architects designed.

Six years ago, the school completed a $13 million facelift and annex to the Gottlieb Building, the academic hub for deaf and hearing-impaired students. Funding from the state's Building Excellent Schools Today grant program paid for the project.

Some students and alumni initially were upset, Hilty said.

"It's like a second home to them," she said. "There was apprehension - 'Why are you doing this to the building?' The changes were needed, and once they could smell that familiar smell in one stairwell and see the stage that remains in what was the auditorium, they were reminded of their memories and understood."

Built in 1952 to replace a building that burned in 1950, the grand structure had small, traditional classrooms, limited open spaces and no air conditioning.

Now, an open-glass atrium enables deaf and hearing-impaired students and teachers to communicate from the first floor to the second floor with ease.

Former student Tim Elstad, who's now retired and substitute teaches at the school, said deaf people stomped on the floor or had to walk to across a room to get each other's attention before the improvements.

"The concept of open space being designed for the deaf has not only changed the way the deaf people 'call,' but also has greatly expanded the communication, access and the cherished the deaf pride," he said via email.

The old lives among the new in Gottlieb, a concept being carried forth in current renovations.

The former exterior walls of Gottlieb are enclosed in a new lobby, which also features 1910-1920s-era photos of children in classrooms.

Controlling light and sound is of utmost importance for students, Brown said, because the environment can affect cochlear implants, for example.

Also, lighting systems that change color instead of brightness enable low-vision students to do schoolwork with less eye fatigue, he said.

Several glare-reducing components, including touch screen-controlled translucent window coverings to allow diffused light, are used in rehabbed classrooms.

"If you're reading sign language, you always need to be watching," Brown said, "and we wanted to make sure it's as comfortable as possible."

Powered skylights, an intercom system with a scrolling screen that flashes messages, high-tech walls with built-in LCD projectors, LEED-certified energy-saving touches and other features used in the Gottlieb Building also are being applied in one renovation underway and another that will start later this month.

"Even with the historic nature, what's driven the design process is what's in the best interests of the students in 2017 and beyond," Hilty said.

Daily living skills

A complete interior renovation of the three-story Jones Hall started last August and will be finished this summer.

The building, which faces the campus quad, has been used for storage but post-renovation will consolidate the Colorado Instructional Materials Collection. The repository for the state's Braille and large print collection for K-12 students has been spread across the campus.

The collection serves 60 school districts statewide and lends materials to other states. The program also produces Braille books and provides instructional materials and devices to students throughout the state. Adding conference and training rooms are part of the rehab, along with a low-vision clinic.

Renovations to Palmer Hall, next to Jones, will get underway this month.

The residential hall houses blind and deaf students ages 18 to 21, who are working on bridging the gap between high school and the next step.

"For some students, it's developing job skills or daily living skills," Hilty said.

The building will reopen in August 2018, Brown said.

Construction on Jones and Palmer halls will cost $15.6 million, Brown said.

Campus security and safety also is being improved. Parking near the quad will be moved to the edges, to make the area more pedestrian-friendly.

And it's become necessary to block drivers and skateboarders from using the campus as a pass-through to get to streets beyond, Brown said.

"It happens every day," he said. "We've also seen an increase in the number of homeless" on school grounds.

The familiar low white ornamental fence that rings the property is being repaired and will remain.

"My intention is we don't ever want people to see this as an institution," Hilty said. "It's a school."

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