EXETER — A substantial renovation on the campus of Exeter High School is underway converting a district-owned house into a new special education living and learning center.
The center on Epping Road will teach life skills and independent living to high school students. As the first school district transitional living center in New Hampshire, this project was approved by the New Hampshire Department of Education using federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act funds.
“We believe that having our students in a setting that replicates real-life would impact their learning best and contribute greatly to their growth and development,” said SAU 16 Superintendent Dr. David Ryan. “This is part of our commitment to provide high-quality instruction for all students and this facility expands our students’ ability to access authentic learning experiences that will play a significant role in their transition out of high school.”
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The new independent living and learning center will enable students to learn a variety of practical skills for independent or group home living such as food preparation, kitchen skills, laundry, self-care, home maintenance and gardening. Students will also learn social skills, problem-solving and work-based skills and tasks that are needed after high school. Skills for community-based activities and employment skills can also be taught and practiced at the new independent living center.
“The goal of the project is to create a facility that can be used by high school students who have independent living skills in their Individual Education Plans (IEPs),” said Dr. Renee Beauregard-Bennett, SAU 16 director of student services. “The transfer of skills would be much easier when they are learned in an actual home setting. Social skills practiced in a living room creates a natural environment for friends to engage in conversations that will be beneficial to all.”
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The 1,700 square foot single-story house, originally built in 1958, is located at the entrance to Exeter High School. IDEA funding, which totals $195,000, will be used to complete the project from start to finish and includes everything from demolition and construction to purchasing appliances, furniture and supplies. The substantial renovation will include mechanical and electrical upgrades such as heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems, and a new water well, pump and heater. The house will be Americans with Disabilities Act compliant with the appropriate ramps, lifts and access throughout the home.
Prior to this project, the house was a rental property. Renovations are expected to be completed in September for the start of the 2022-23 school year. Most of the renovation will be performed by SAU 16 maintenance and facilities staff members.
Exeter High School, part of SAU 16, serves the towns of Exeter, Brentwood, East Kingston, Stratham, Kensington and Newfields and is home to just over 1,500 students in grades nine through 12.