Perkins School to Expand

September 19, 2009 : The Boston Herald, by Christine McConville

The Perkins School for the Blind yesterday announced a $30 million renovation and expansion plan for its historic Watertown campus.

Steven Rothstein, the 180-year-old school’s president, said the upgrades will position the school for another century of education. “We’re moving forward,” he told a delighted group of teachers.

The school, where Helen Keller and her teacher Anne Sullivan were educated, was the first U.S. education institution devoted to the blind.

In 1912, Perkins moved from downtown Boston to its Watertown campus, a 38.5-acre former apple orchard located a stone's throw from the Charles River.

Today, the school’s British prep school-inspired buildings need to be updated to address changing expectations and changing student needs, school officials said.

“There’s no air conditioning, but we're in session 11 months a year,” Rothstein said.

Also, more Perkins’ blind students have additional physical or cognitive challenges. Many use wheelchairs or walk with supports.

On its lower campus, Perkins will build a new schoolhouse, with larger classrooms and more spacious restrooms. The school will also renovate its circa-1910 Lower School residential building, where some 50 students, ages 6 to 15, are taught.

Perkins’ trustees decided to move ahead with the plan on Thursday night, amid news from economists that the deep recession may be over. Rothstein said the group wanted to take advantage of more competitive construction costs and lower interest rates.

The school plans to finance at least part of the project through low-interest bonds from MassDevelopment, the quasi-public state agency. Shawmut Construction is the builder and MDS Boston the architect.

© Copyright 2009 The Boston Herald.