New Omaha school designed for students' sensory needs


    OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — A $10 million school specifically designed to meet the complex needs of Omaha students with cognitive and physical disabilities has opened.

    The new J.P. Lord School welcomed teachers and about 60 students, ranging in age from 5 to 21, earlier this month, the Omaha World-Herald reported. Most of the school's students aren't verbal, some have feeding tubes and many have limited mobility.

    "It's just a friendly, friendly space," said Laura Mac-Holmes, the school's principal. "It's all about the sensory curriculum — what we see, what we hear, what we smell, what we taste, what we feel."

    The school is equipped with a therapy pool that allows students to stretch and work their muscles. Rooms are designed to stimulate senses with different-colored lights, projections and music. Nursing stations are also tucked into hallways for quick access.

    The school was formerly housed inside a smaller building on the University of Nebraska Medical Center campus.

    Architects sought input from parents, staff and special education experts to design the new facility to meet the specific needs of J.P. Lord students.

    Lifts were built into the ceilings to help faculty move or maneuver students. Closets are large enough to store medical equipment and hallways are outfitted with color-changing lights to keep students engaged while they move between classes.

    The school also commissioned artwork from Jeffrey Owen Hanson, a visually impaired artist from Kansas, to display on the hallways. Hanson's artwork includes texture so students can touch and peel the paintings.

    "It's so nice that there was a space designed for the students," said teacher Mary Becker. "Not for our ease, not for economic reasons, designed just because it's the best place for the kids."

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