Thursday, Feb. 21, 2013 | 2 a.m.
The Clark County School District welcomed more than 100 students with severe disabilities to a brand new campus this week.
The Miller School — which serves about 125 special-needs students — moved into an $18 million, state-of-the-art facility on Wednesday. The new campus — located on the Pecos-McLeod Interconnect near Twain Avenue — replaced its predecessor about 3 miles miles to the north.
The old Miller site was showing its age, Principal Jean Trudell said. Built as a traditional school in 1960, the building was converted about 25 years ago into a special school for students with multiple physical, intellectual, sensory and emotional disabilities.
The old school wasn't ideal for Miller students, Trudell said. The building lacked sufficient technology and had frequent issues with its electrical, heating and cooling systems. The old campus didn't even have a library or a multipurpose room.
For students prone to seizures and respiratory problems, the outdoor campus made walking between classrooms and the nurse's office challenging. Some students were hospitalized, Trudell said, because of the increased exposure to the desert heat and allergens.
"It was difficult for our students," Trudell said. "It wasn't safe for their health."
Miller parents may rest a little easier with their children at the new campus, constructed with the last of the 1998 school bond money.
The new school is nearly twice as large as its predecessor. It features wider hallways to accommodate students with wheelchairs and special walking equipment. The 74,000-square-foot school also has a larger health office, a cooking room, courtyard space and large windows that let in natural light.
Miller's 20 classrooms also are equipped with new technologies such as smartboards and projectors. The school relies heavily on interactive technologies to help students learn.
The school has 89 staff members – teachers, assistant teachers and a host of nurses and physical, occupational, speech therapists – whose ultimate goal for Miller students is to help them live as independent a life as possible, Trudell said. That may depend on the individual student, whether it's learning how to walk or use a spoon to communicating via computer switches.
"We believe that all students can learn," Trudell said. "The bottom line is to teach them as many skills as possible to help them become as independent as possible."
Miller's new campus is one of just a handful of schools across the nation that is specifically designed for students with multiple disabilities, Trudell said. Architects Tate Snyder Kimsey worked closely with the School District and Core Construction to design and build the school.
The School District serves nearly 32,000 special-needs children, which represents about 10 percent of the total student population. The vast majority of these students attend their neighborhood schools, participating in special or mainstreamed programs.
Miller caters specifically to students with the most severe physical and intellectual disabilities, Trudell said. Students ages 3 to 22 are referred to Miller if their neighborhood schools do not have ample special-needs programs to support them.
Often, smaller school districts don't have the resources for special-needs students, sending them out of the district and even the state for their education, Trudell said. Of the approximately 16 million special education students in the nation, just 120,000 of them are students who would go to a school like Miller, she said.
"Many districts can't and don't dedicate a school for these students," Trudell said. "This (new facility) is a huge commitment on the part of our School Board and School District. We are so grateful."