Mary Humstone: I was first attracted to the Wyoming School for the Deaf by its stunning Mid-Century Modern architecture – with its hovering folded roof and multi-hued glass walls, it looks like a spaceship landed in the middle of a Casper neighborhood. Then I learned what the school means to the students who went there, and their parents and teachers. As former student Meghan Watt wrote, “My whole world opened up when I was at the School for the Deaf. I had friends, I could connect with my family more since I was able to communicate…those were the best seven years of my childhood!” Former students like Meghan still return to the building to relive those years, even though the school closed in 2000. The School for the Deaf epitomizes places I want to save, places that are architecturally outstanding, hold significant memories and have great meaning in people’s lives.
Read more about Meghan Watt's story below:
Meghan Watt, Wyoming School for the Deaf Student 1991-1998: My parents moved our family to Casper just so I could be enrolled at the Wyoming School for the Deaf. It was thanks to this school, and the staff at this school, that changed my life for the better. I lost my hearing as a result of meningitis when I was 2 years old, and struggled to learn to speak and communicate again while making sense of what I was hearing with hearing aids. The deaf school gave me a better concept of language. When I started learning to sign, that helped me understand language and to speak again. My whole world opened up while I was at the School for the Deaf. I had friends, I could communicate, I could connect with my family more since I was able to communicate, etc. Being at the school for 7 years were the best 7 years of my childhood! I still think very fondly of the teachers and staff that have worked with me and taught me at the deaf school, and I’m still quite close to some of them. It would be an absolute shame if the WSD building was torn down. I still go to the WSD building whenever I can just to visit with the librarian who manages the library/resource center (she happened to be my interpreter for school from K-12!), and to check out the materials on hand. The library/resource center at the WSD building is a great resource for anyone needing info/help regarding deafness, education of the deaf, sign language, etc
Initially, early pilot programs for deaf students were conducted in temporary classrooms at Casper College and East Junior High. In 1959, a house across the street from Pineview Elementary School was purchased to operate the program. In 1964, the state Legislature appropriated $250,000 to construct a facility of 14 rooms attached to Pineview Elementary School. This allowed deaf students to easily access some mainstream classes and activities.
In 1969 the building underwent major expansion with the addition of the gymnasium, kitchen and two classrooms. In the 1984-1985 school year, 37 elementary, junior high and high school students were enrolled in the program.
The WSD building was used by the deaf program from 1963 until it was permanently closed due to lack of enrollment in June of 2005. By that time all of the students had been mainstreamed into local school districts in or near their hometowns, including those hearing-impaired students in Natrona County.
In spite of being officially closed, the WSD today is still being used for housing programs for the deaf and visually impaired. It is also place for reunions and socials for its former students. In 2007, Kathleen Holmes, one of the WSD’s ﬁrst students, told the Star-Tribune in an email message, “It’s indeed sad that all the memories and the historical site of the Wyoming School for the Deaf will be wiped out when it’s torn down! We held our 50th Anniversary Reunion at WSD last summer."
The structure’s Expressionist Modern design features an irregular, star-shaped ﬂoor plan topped by a low, hovering roof of zigzagging gables. The single-story school building is constructed of steel I-beams, with a central rotunda (now used as the library) surrounded by classrooms and oﬃces. The library is ﬂooded with daylight by eight ceiling skylights. Each classroom has a large bank of original windows, some extending almost to the height of the room, which provide ample natural daylight.
Krusmark and Krusmark, AIA designed the WSD. This father and son team not only designed this school but also other buildings in Casper, including Midwest Elementary School, Dean Morgan Junior High, Kelly Walsh High School and the blossom-like Wyoming National Bank building located in downtown on 1st Street (now Wells Fargo Bank). The WSD is a unique building in Wyoming, although more research is needed to understand how signiﬁcant its role is in the architectural history of the state.