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Community fights to keep historic building at Indiana School for the Deaf

Posted at 8:31 PM, Jun 27, 2019
and last updated 2019-06-27 20:31:59-04

INDIANAPOLIS — Simpson Hall, a dormitory on the Indiana School for the Deaf campus, was built in 1911 and serves as a piece of the state's history and a place that has sentimental value.

The Indiana School for the Deaf recently celebrated its 175th anniversary, but with word that Simpson Hall could be torn down, former students and historic conservationist are upset.

The 75,000 square foot building has massive pillars, marble floors, and beautiful stairwells. It was Debbie Gessinger's dormitory home, from 5th grade to her sophomore year in high school. She wants it saved.

"What happens to all the things inside that building that are still so valuable? What are you gonna do with that?" Gessinger asked. "The deaf community is really upset. Why not just save it."

It has been empty for 30 years. Experts say it would take 15 to 20 million dollars worth of rehab work to get the building in shape.

"It's got a lot of memories for a lot of people who don't necessarily have a voice in this community," Gessinger said.

Kathleen Day is an architect who has relatives who attended the School for the Deaf.

"It's much bigger than architecture. It's much bigger than what the state budget is," Day said. "It's very much a part of the culture of the people who have supported the Indiana School for the Deaf. And people have been a part of that community for so long."

Mark Dollase from the Indiana Landmarks Foundation told me their efforts to save Simpson Hall has been like running their heads into a brick wall.

"I am perfectly open to listening if someone has a path forward with this in a very short period of time, but I think the state told me a couple of months ago that they are looking at demolishing the building this summer," Dollase said.

Gessinger received the 2019 Alumnus of the Year award for her hard work trying to save Simpson Hall. Until the wrecking ball strikes, she will continue to fight the fight.

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