The gloomy northwest corner of the Steamboat Springs School District's central administration building is getting a face-lift, and the beneficiaries are current and future Routt County special-needs students.
Work is under way on renovations to the area of the 86-year-old building used by Stepping Stones, a newer program designed to help developmentally challenged 18- to 21-year-olds make the transition from high school to independent living.
The Steamboat Springs School Board recently approved $100,000 in renovations to the facility. Stepping Stones is a district program.
The work includes making a restroom compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, as well as numerous cosmetic changes and updates.
Superintendent Donna Howell said she was made aware of the facility's shortcomings soon after she was hired last summer.
"We have to provide for safety and an environment that's conducive to learning," Howell said last week.
Along with the bathroom renovation, ceilings and overhead lighting throughout the back corner of the building are being replaced, new carpeting is being installed and painting and floor cleaning is being performed, Howell said.
Stepping Stones also is being provided with additional classroom space to allow for cottage industries.
"The bottom line is the district made the commitment to provide facilities for the program," Howell said.
Stepping Stones began in August after a year of planning. Paula Lotz, the program's transition teacher, said the first year was a big success. Last year's enrollment included five full-time students and four part-time students. The program is open to all qualifying Routt County residents.
"I think we accomplished a lot," Lotz said. "It has been so exciting to see it all come together. I really believe the students love it."
Before Stepping Stones' creation, students with special needs often remained at the high school and took classes until they were 21. With Stepping Stones, the same young adults are provided the specific instruction and training to prepare them for life on their own or with Horizons, Lotz said.
"I think it was very, very important for them to have their own place," she said. The facility includes a mock apartment, where students can work on life skills such as cleaning, cooking and planning.
And while having a facility of their own was a huge benefit, the district administration building had its drawbacks. Some district officials described the bathroom as "deplorable."
"It wasn't perfect, but it's getting there," Lotz said of the facility.
The condition of a facility can have a significant effect on students with special needs, Lotz said. Softer lighting will help autistic students, many of whom have difficulties concentrating under bright fluorescent lights that hum. New carpeting will provide a comfortable area for some students to wind down and focus on their work.
"It looks so much nicer," Lotz said. "It's just amazing what a little face-lift does for an older building. It's going to be very nice."
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