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framingham

Center for deaf children plans $6m addition in Framingham

By Megan McKee
Globe Correspondent / June 13, 2010

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Framingham’s Learning Center for the Deaf is building a $6 million, 20,000-square-foot early childhood facility and library on its Central Street campus, a move that the director said is not only helpful but necessary.

“The little kid population is growing quite a bit, because babies are being identified much earlier’’ with hearing difficulties, said Michael Bello, the school’s director.

The Learning Center has a waiting list for its preschool, and toddlers through kindergartners share a building with the elementary school. Once the new building is completed, the youngest students will move into an age-appropriately designed space, which means the elementary school children will have more room, too.

In addition, the new library will provide much more room than the current facility, which is shared by all of the students at the Framingham facility.

“It is difficult,’’ Bello said. “When you have 3-year-olds through high school, you have a lot of needs . . . we’re really cramped for space.’’

The Learning Center for the Deaf’s program teaches its students to become fluent in both American Sign Language and English. Deaf and hard-of-hearing children can register through their public school districts.

The school has day and residential programs, and works with a wide range of student populations, including deaf children learning ASL as their first language, some with cochlear implants, and students with more complicated physical and behavioral disabilities.

Founded in 1970, the center’s main campus sits on 12 acres at 848 Central St. in Framingham, with a smaller facility in Randolph. Its 210 students come from 17 states, but 90 percent are from Massachusetts.

Bello said the Framingham campus has needed additional space for years, but financing has been an issue. The state helped the school secure a $3.6 million tax-exempt bond, which was key for the project to begin, he said.

Carla DelPizzo, a spokeswoman for the school, described the temporary fixes to which the school has resorted over the years, including “reconfiguring library areas, hallways, and formerly public spaces into makeshift classrooms and parent-child teaching space.

“Now there is simply no more space,’’ she said.

DelPizzo said that for deaf and hard-of-hearing children, early intervention is a key component to their success, and the school’s early childhood learning center is often a family’s first connection with specialized services.

In addition, the media conference center in the new library will have four conference rooms that can be used for distance learning, and give students and teachers access to professionals and peers far beyond the campus, she said.

The Learning Center will also be able to share its research on issues such as deaf autism with professionals and teachers around the world, she said.

Megan McKee can be reached at megan.mckee@gmail.com.

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