Deptford reviews autism school plan
July 14, 2005
By Matthew Ralph

DEPTFORD TWP. -- The township planning board offered little by way of feedback during a "courtesy review" Wednesday of the proposed $12 million school for students with autism and other complex disabilities pending state Department of Education approval.

Architect Robert N. Garrison, of Garrison Architects, presented the plans for the one-story, 46,200-square-foot school that is expected to break ground in March 2006 near the intersection of Salina and Tanyard roads. The 9-acre parcel -- on the GCC campus near the county office of education -- is being leased to the Gloucester County Special Services District by the college for $1.

The school, which officials say will complete the Bankbridge campus that already includes a secondary and elementary special education school, will serve approximately 125 students ages 3 to 21 with autism and multiple disabilities. It will have two playgrounds, physical education and therapy space and 185 parking spaces, according to the plans.

Garrison, whose firm designed a new middle school under construction for the Kingsway Regional School District, said unlike most schools his firm has designed, the specific details and layout were driven by the unique programs that will be housed in the school.

"We have three schools within a school in order to meet educational requirements of students on three different levels," Garrison said. About 90 students at the district's Child Development Center in Washington Township and another 35 students at the Bankbridge Regional and Bankbridge Elementary facilities will be served at the new school, according to Mike Dicken, special education director.

Since the school will house an existing program, Dicken said he anticipates there will be only a minimal need for additional staffing. The building is designed for future expansion to the westerly side, Garrison told the board.

Councilman Paul Medany, who sits on the planning board, offered the only feedback from the board when he asked for details about the school's specific nature.

Autism is a complex developmental disorder that affects about 1 in 166 children nationwide. That figure is believed to be higher in Gloucester County. The school has been touted by Freeholder Director Stephen M. Sweeney, who announced the plans for the school at the board's reorganization meeting in January.

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