Plan Commission Approves Life Skills Center
Left, The SPASH campus could soon have a new building for special education students.
By Donnelly Clare
The Stevens Point Plan Commission Thursday night unanimously voted to approve construction of a new educational community center next door to SPASH.
The Life Skills Center (LSC) has faced an uphill climb with the Stevens Point School Board, which has debated nearly every angle on the topic, including size and location, distance from SPASH, possible use of already existing school-owned sites, parking availability and the need for it at all. District Superintendent Attila Weninger said the center will have the “feel of a home in the community” for special education students with cognitive disabilities.
“In March the school district proposed creating a Life Skills Center on North Second Street, but at that time there were some concerns- mainly with the proximity to some of the taverns,” said Michael Ostrowski, director of development for the city. “They are now looking at creating a smaller facility off of Northpoint Drive, which is just next to the staff parking lot of the main facility.”
What was originally proposed to School Board Members as a duplex home- style classroom on Second St. North has since morphed into a 3,000 square-foot independent living skills educational center facing Northpoint Drive. Previous plans for the building were turned down because of its proximity to nearby taverns, which some debated was against a state law mandating 300 feet of distance between a school and a bar. The new proposal puts the building on the northwest corner of the SPASH campus next to a staff parking lot.
“Ultimately this plan addresses the initial concerns we had in March,” Ostrowski said. “It’s still not connected to the building, but the district wanted to make this is separate facility, and they’ve done that without having to walk through the parking lots and allows for a complete sidewalk all the way to the facility.”
Ostrowski suggested the district rethink the exterior of the building to match the institutional look of SPASH, but Weninger said the residential appearance of the LSC was intentional.
“The kids need to feel like they’re leaving a school and coming to a home,” Weninger said. “They need to be able to navigate within the community, and that’s part of what this Life Skills Center provides. They need to learn to care for themselves and care for things around a home, and when they leave school we need to make sure they can.”
Weninger said the center’s design has a three-fold application, with its primary focus on teaching independent living skills, such as basic household cooking and cleaning, to developmentally- delayed students as well as physically- handicapped students in wheelchairs. Life skills classes are currently taught in a rented apartment across the street from the high school but some students in larger wheelchairs aren’t able navigate the rooms.
Other areas of the building with serve as a multipurpose room and the Blue Light Café- a place where area residents could be invited to dine on student- prepared meals. Thread of Kindness will also be located inside the center.
The $500,000 project was included in the district’s 2013-14 budget and is being reimbursed in part through a Medicaid program. The proposal still needs approval from the City Council, which meets Jan. 20 at 7 PM.