Superintendent Carol Hilty likes to say that the Colorado School for the Deaf and the Blind (CSDB), although unique, is simply a school serving the children of Colorado. “Our students just happen to be deaf and blind,” she says.

Photo courtesy of RTA Architects

Since its humble beginning in 1874 with just seven students who were deaf, the school has grown to serve an average of 235 students on campus and 500 students statewide annually, from birth to age 21. The campus occupies 17 buildings and sits on 37 acres in Colorado Springs.

In 2010 the school won a BEST Grant to fund a much-needed expansion and complete renovation of its 58 year-old Gottlieb Building, which now serves as the hub of student activity on the campus. The building had several security and life-safety issues, general condition problems, program-to-space matching challenges that had to be resolved, and poor visibility within the facility—especially problematic for a building focused primarily on serving students who are deaf.

RTA Architects, which specializes in K-12 education design, was selected as the architect for the project. “Two of the most important goals for the renovated building were an open design that would facilitate better visibility and communication for the deaf community and flexible spaces that could be used for multiple purposes at any given time,” said Stuart Coppedge, RTA’s principal-in-charge on Gottlieb.

The planning process was centered on a strategy that RTA would provide the school design expertise and the Design Advisory Group (DAG) consisting of the superintendent, a board member, facilities manager and teachers from CSDB, would provide strong guidance about the needs of the student population. Residential schools have a unique culture, educational approach and philosophy.

“CSDB was very clear we wanted to work in close collaboration with the architect to develop the design concepts that support the needs of our students,” said Hilty. “Utilizing interpreters, RTA Architects conducted design charrettes in our DAG meetings that included administrators, staff who are deaf, and a board of trustees member. I always thought we had the perfect scenario.

“This is what the BEST program should be about: the partnership among school, architect, engineer and contractor,” added Hilty.

The project partnership was rounded out by HCDA Engineers (structural), Plant Engineering Consultants (mechanical, electrical and plumbing), Bean Engineering (civil), and general contractor GH Phipps Cos.