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Debate over the future of the Utah Schools for the Deaf and Blind ended Tuesday with a groundbreaking ceremony for a campus that should be completed in spring 1993.

Legislators, educators and administrators wielded shovels to begin construction of a 95,000-square-foot complex that will contain a resource center and classrooms, as well as residential facilities for up to 70 students. The new facility is located at 748 Harrison Blvd., across the street from Ben Lomond High School.For at least a decade officials and parents have debated the future of the schools, including the pros and cons of separating the two schools completely.

The curriculums for deaf and for blind students are separate, and the students will use different parts of the facilities but interact socially. The first phase includes construction of the resource center and housing units. Classrooms will be added in phase 2.

The resource center will be "one of the major functions of this facility," said David L. West, superintendent of the schools. Students will be able to use equipment and technology there. Two residential units will be "attached" with nursing facilities for youths who need medical attention. The others will be separate and can also be used to house small groups of deaf or blind students from outlying areas during short, intensive training.

The schools serve about 1,000 deaf or blind students throughout the state. About 30 students are expected to be residential, West said. Most of the students live at home and attend public schools, taking some classes (including Braille or sign language) in classrooms leased by the Utah Schools for the Deaf and Blind and taught by its instructors. The students join the general public school population for other classes. In Granite District, for instance, the schools lease 29 classrooms.

"I was prepared very well to leave this school and go into public school," Jack Wheeler, chairman of the school's Institutional Council, told the 150 people - including a number of students - gathered for the ceremony. "This school has turned out some fantastic people. It has one of the finest faculties."

The price tag - about $8 million - "seems like a lot of money," Colleen Colton of the governor's office said. "But it's going to save us a great deal of money. We will save millions in future costs and rehabilitation. Most important is the impact (the facility) will have on these students.

"We have beautiful mountains - magnificent mountains. We need schools to match our mountains."

Utah's first school for deaf students opened in 1894. The blind component was added two years later and was originally housed on old reform school property. The new facility will be the first one designed specifically to meet the needs of the Utah Schools for the Deaf and Blind, Wheeler said. Until the outbreak of World War II, dairy herds, gardens and fruit orchards kept the school self-sufficient.

When the war started, it was impossible to get help and the herds were sold and the gardens and orchards abandoned. In the late 1960s, the two schools were separated because of "growing pains." A decrease in student population made putting the programs back together "a necessity," Wheeler said.