ABERDEEN, S.D. –Aberdeen is home to a school that is truly one of a kind. The South Dakota School for the Blind and Visually Impaired moved their campus here from Gary, a small town on the Minnesota border, in 1961. They have operated from the same building ever since, but not for long. Through donations given to the Educational Impact Campaign, the SDSBVI will receive a brand-new facility with an estimated move-in date of 2020. School superintendent, Marje Kaiser, spoke with us about the project and why the Aberdeen community has made it so special. “The support we’ve had to do this has been absolutely overwhelming. In the monetary donations, and just in the amount of people I talk to on a daily basis who say, ‘We’re so happy for the school and that this is moving forward.’” She goes on to add that what the SDSBVI has in Aberdeen is unlike anything she has seen anywhere else because of its proximity and relationship with Northern. “Nobody has a setup like this. We collaborate with NSU on many things, particularly their teacher education program.” Once the new SDSBVI is complete, their students will also have access to NSU’s athletic fields for recreational use.
The new school will be built on 3.5 acres of land on the former site of NSU’s Jerde Hall. Construction has been well prepared every step of the way, starting first with its design by Christopher Downey. Mr. Downey worked as an architect for 30 years before losing his sight and is now one of the only blind architects in the world. Marje says, “The materials and acoustic elements he included in the building are unique to someone who knows that side of things.” Faculty and students have added their ideas for what they want to see in the facility, namely making it more home-like for the children living on campus and up to date with the technology needs of today’s classrooms.
Moving to a new space will be a positive direction for the school, but it admittedly brings mixed emotions for some, especially students who are on campus now and very familiar with their current building. To help ease the transition, Journey Construction is including students in each phase of the building process. Marje says, “They’re letting students and teachers go on site and taking the time to share with us the steps of construction and how a building comes to be.”
Marje has lived at the school with her family for 17 years. She hints that once the students and staff are settled in at their new facility, she will be looking to retire. The timing feels right to leave the school she loves on the brink of a good future. “It will be a great opportunity for someone with fresh ideas to come in and take this to the next level. With this building, the stage will be set.” // — Jenny Roth