Linda Haller, Amphitheater’s Assistant Director of Special Education, has been waiting 28 years for her vision of the Rillito Center to become a reality. On Monday, the wait was over.

Haller and members of the Amphi school board gathered on Jan. 30 for a ribbon-cutting ceremony to officially announce that construction and renovations have been completed on the center, which caters to children aged three to 22 who have autism, cognitive delays, and other disablements.

The renovation was made possible after taxpayers in the school district voted to permit the issuance and sale of bonds. Construction on the $6.2 million project began last July under Concorde General Contracting, following an architectural redesign dating back to December of 2009.

“We put a lot of time and thought into the facility,” said Haller. “It took a lot of negotiating to get where we are now.”

 Dr. Vicki Balentine, former Superintendent of Amphi School District, said the redesigned facility is much improved from years past, and will act to better serve special needs children.

“This morning is particularly satisfying,” said Balentine. “There used to be three or four dilapidated portables that had long ramps that required walking across the grounds to go to individual, tiny classrooms. There was a lot of care that went into this building since then.”

Leif Vandenberg, a student at the Rillito Center, was given the honor of cutting the ribbon to officially announce the renovation complete.

Haller said the students have already been taking advantage of what the facility now has to offer. She recalled two students who were in wheelchairs that are now able to walk with the assistance of newly installed hand rails and more spacious hallways.

Renovations to the facility include eight new classrooms, a multi-purpose room, occupational and physical therapy rooms, various playgrounds, new seating areas, and much more. The facility also offers 32,500 square feet of classroom and administration space. Before, the facility was a total of 19,000 square feet.

“This has been a fantastic project. We thank the voters for passage of the bond and allowing this facility to become a reality,” said project manager, Chris Louth.

The bond has allowed the Rillito Center to take advantage of new technology that will help Rillito students more easily grasp concepts taught in the classroom. Each of the classrooms contains a smart board, which allow teachers to present material on large projection screens with enhanced audio, benefiting children with visual and auditory defects. Outside of each classroom is a touch-activated control, which speaks the teacher’s name to let students know they are at the correct classroom.

“These students need assistance in engaging and interacting,” said Kent Barrabee, Governing Board Member in the Amphi school district. “That is something that is true throughout education, and slowly we are getting there. What you are seeing here today is symbol of that movement.”

Barrabee said he thinks the school’s initiatives will serve as an example for other teachers, helping them become aware of teaching options becoming available.

“What you find out at the end of the year isn’t what counts, it’s what you find out from moment to moment during the class that really is important,” he said. “Teachers are figuring out a lot of different ways to utilize technology in the classroom. There are some extraordinary resources out there.”

As an added benefit, Rillito students are now able to work on living skills while at school, with a washer, dryer, refrigerator, stove and sink located on campus. Bathrooms have also been designed to compensate for the students.

Haller said she is extremely proud of the end result, and thanked everybody involved in the renovation process.

“I’ve been on cloud nine. I’ve been collecting what I wanted for 28 years, and it’s been a great process the whole way through.”

Haller expects the program will continue to grow and serve the needs of handicapped children for years to come.

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