Look, Listen, and Learn

May 15, 2002
Education Winner Central Institute For the Deaf, St. Louis
Being all things to all people isn’t easy: This is probably what St. Louis’ Central Institute for the Deaf (CID) would tell you if its facilities could talk. As the only institution that functions as a school for deaf children, a scientific research facility, a place offering clinical services, and a professional education department of speech and hearing, the CID was desperately in need of state-of-the-art facilities and a way to consolidate the campus’ four communities under one roof.Sandwiched between a pre-existing, 1929 building and another original facility, the new 42,000-square-foot school and 65,000-square-foot research facility bridged the campus from end to end, making interaction inevitable and consolidation possible.With so many different groups of people frequenting the CID, it was necessary that the facility meet the needs of all programs, and all people – including hearing-impaired individuals ranging in age from infant to elderly. Interior design elements focused on making the facilities comfortable and user-friendly. “The campus had to be designed both internally and externally to be warm, nurturing, and inviting to parents and to be a place where you would want to bring your three-year-old. And yet at the same time, it had to be a place where top-notch, world-renown researchers would come and be equally impressed,” says Judy Alexander, director of Administration and Finance and capital projects manager for the Central Institute for the Deaf.Nicknamed “the quiet school,” the Central Institute for the Deaf teaches up to 120 children, from birth to age 14, how to listen and how to talk using any residual hearing they may have. “First, it was very important to reduce the amount of background noise so that the only signal received by the students was the teacher’s voice. Later, when sound field amplification was installed in the classrooms, the teacher’s voice was all that was amplified, not any background noise,” explains John Guenther, principal, Mackey Mitchell Associates, St. Louis.By the time the school opened its doors in January 2000, it had achieved an environment that exceeded the national acoustic guidelines recommended by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association and the Acoustical Society of America. “A key strategy was to keep noise out of the classroom, so we put the ductwork and VAV boxes in the hallway ceilings along with voice and data raceways. This way any servicing can be done without disruption to the students,” Guenther explains. Additionally, the school’s walls – two-inch, fabric-wrapped acoustical panels that penetrate from floor to floor – prevent sound from leaking through the ceiling plenum. Ceiling tiles with a high noise reduction coefficient (NRC) were also installed. “Environmental noise, cars driving by, a helicopter flying overhead, people walking up and down the hallway, or air-conditioning sounds and vibrations are detrimental to the educational process,” Alexander stresses. Lighting was also a critical concern, and was designed to ensure that students could see the teacher from all areas of the room, with classrooms bright enough to read lips.CID’s school building also contains specialized discovery rooms, a music and drama room, child- and family-friendly offices and lobby areas, as well as a full-sized gymnasium and a new Joanne Parrish Knight Family Center. Input from more than 30 teachers of hearing-impaired students helped communicate the design elements that would be critical to a successful program for hearing-impaired students through the eighth-grade level.The school’s neighboring building, a newly constructed, attached facility for research and administration, houses a cafeteria, meeting rooms, 29 cell and molecular biology labs, as well as a fully equipped computer center and classroom observation areas for graduate students. Deviating from the stark white, sterile design typical in most laboratory environments, the CID’s research labs contain rich, cherry cabinetry, unifying this area with classrooms, lobby areas, and other parts of the facility where warm, wood tones are also used.The research facility houses the Harold W. Siebens Hearing Research Center, is home to the Fay and Carl Simons Center for Biology of Hearing and Deafness, and serves as the location for the campus’ central mechanical/electrical/IS plant.The beauty of CID’s new environment is not merely the aesthetics, but more the design considerations that are not visible to the naked eye. These details are what make this extraordinary facility the ideal place to learn, study, work, and understand deafness. The success of these buildings is due to a team of individuals who listened intently to the needs of the CID, and then executed a plan to bring them everything they ever needed – with the bonus of things they never knew they wanted.Jana J. Madsen ([email protected]) is senior editor at Buildings and BI magazines.

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