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CHILD School Searcing for New Home

Children’s Institute for Learning Differences is exploring buying a facility, possibly off-island, as it faces displacement by Mercer Island School District

The , a private school with a mission to provide support to children with social, emotional, neurological and mental health issues, is anticipating having to move from  property that it leases.

Dick Watson, a trustee of the school, said the institute is seeking a building to buy, and once it narrows down the location, will launch a capital campaign to help fund purchase and remodeling for a new building. The cost could be in the range of $12 million, Watson says, based on buildings the institute has researched over the last two years in Eastside cities, such as Bellevue and Redmond. Watson says the school is not considering building a new facility.

The school will likely need to move in less than a year, said Watson, as the Mercer Island School District is expected to move forward with plans to redevelop its North Mercer campus. The building complex currently plays host to CHILD, , and daycare/preschool centers operated by , and . CHILD has not yet received a termination of lease notice.

The district of moving its to that campus, which is part of a 43 acre “mega-block” that also includes and a variety of district facilities, according to school district records. Mercer Island elementary and middle schools are currently over capacity by an average of 31 percent, with more than 600 of the district’s 4,178 students housed in portable classrooms in the 2011-2011 school year, the district says.

“We like the Eastside because of easy access” for families that have children enrolled in the school’s specialized program, Watson says. He says the school currently works with around 60 students, up to eight grade, and that a new location could provide the school the ability to offer services to high school age students as well. Children who attend the school live as far south as Auburn and as far north as Snohomish, and many families relocate to the area from other states in order to take advantage of CHILD’s programs, Watson says.

CHILD has a ratio of about one teacher to each five students, as well as additional support staff in classrooms where needed, depending on the needs of the individual students.

Watson says the school was founded in 1977 by Trina Westerlund, who still serves as its CEO. He says the school’s aim is to integrate children into more traditional classrooms as much as possible, and CHILD has had many success stories. Former students have gone on to attend law school and often give keynote addresses at CHILD’s annual fundraising luncheon, Watson says.

The reasons children attend the school vary from ADD/ADHD or impulse regulation issues to traumatic brain injury, and the full-day school offers a broad range of therapeutic support such as occupational therapy and mental health services through its Developmental Therapy Services division, which also accepts medical insurance coverage for those support services.

CHILD is recognized by the Washington State Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction and receives some funding for therapeutic services for public school students whom the state is unable to support to the degree they need. School officials said most parents pay the school’s tuition privately or receive some financial aid from CHILD.

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