Walker Hall, at the South Carolina School for the Deaf & Blind—the first school in the South to teach life skills to sensory-challenged children—was built in three phases, beginning in 1859 with a three-story Italianate edifice, designed by Edward C. Jones. A new wing by Samuel Sloan was added in 1884, followed by an addition by the Atlanta firm Edwards Sayward, in 1921.
Several years ago, with Walker Hall in serious disrepair, school authorities secured a $12 million grant from the state and brought in local architects McMillan Smith & Partners.
Ironically, much of the work centered on making the facility ADA-compliant for the K-12's more than 400 students. Those in wheelchairs had to enter Walker Hall via a supply door in the kitchen; the auditorium, restrooms, and upper floors were not accessible to them.
To achieve compliance, a ramp for one of the two new staircases connecting to the main building was built, along with wheelchair ramps to the auditorium stage. In the auditorium itself, a sign language communicator with special lighting was installed.
A special customized evacuation system, featuring integrated, off-the-shelf components that give off different sound and light signals, depending on the type of emergency, was added.
Including a chair railing along the walls and painting the base of the walls white for high contrast made it possible for some visually impaired children to navigate the halls more readily.
Other improvements included doubly reinforcing 10 roof trusses over the auditorium and the atrium to add to the roof's strength and load-bearing integrity. New roof and attic tie rods were added to bolster the auditorium walls, and two-story-long steel tubes were placed into the walls between the windows to meet wind and seismic load requirements.
Custom wood windows replaced steel units that had been installed during a 1950s renovation. Wood floors were restored, and heart pine and maple flooring replaced missing floorboards.
On the exterior, cypress replaced deteriorated pine. New suppliers were found to replace encaustic tile originally imported from England. Artisans skillfully matched mortar and brick from the various periods of construction.
With the completion of this 69,925-sf renovation in May 2004, Walker Hall became equipped to serve its clients better than ever. As judge Robert Loversidge, Jr., FAIA, put it, "They modernized so that the school can fulfill its duty for another century."