OREM -- When Sondra Hurst, the mother of two autistic children, announced that it was her dream to have a school for them, the dinner table around which they were gathered became the first staging area for what is now Clear Horizons Academy, a private school designed to meet the needs of children with autism.
Autism is a group of developmental disabilities that affect how children perceive the world. Autism impacts each person differently, but common symptoms include significant social, communication and behavioral challenges.
Today, it is estimated that nationally one in every 77 children will be diagnosed with autism. However, in Utah the rate is one in 47 children.
With that many children in Utah needing focused instruction Hurst and her family got to work. In seven short years, they've outgrown their space.
"We started with one classroom and seven kids," she said. "We expanded to 35 children in four classrooms. Now we've run out of room and space."
Since opening its doors, Clear Horizons Academy has more than quadrupled in size. It has a growing waiting list, leaving children unable to access the specialized services that could benefit them the most.
Brent Wood, Hurst's father and president of the Hurst-Wood Education Foundation, said they started a $6.54 million project and have been working on building a new school on family property sold to the foundation at 1875 S. Geneva Road.
"The building has unique features including classrooms that have their own observations rooms, quiet rooms, a sensory room with occupational therapists. It has a life skills room that teaches students self-care," director of development Christopher Lindsay said. "It's set up like a home, where they can even learn to make beds, set the table. It helps them acquire skills to become independent adults."
The stage in the recreation hall doubles as a light sensory room, Wood said.
It has a large room to train staff as well as parents on new approaches. They even bring in national speakers to train the trainers.
"The school is designed to be added onto in the future," Wood said. "We hope it will be a flagship school for others like it in the future."
The new school will report to the Alpine School District and the state.
"We are hoping to transform the lives of thousands of children in the future," Lindsay said.
Linzi Aldrop's 10 year-old son has been attending Clear Horizons for three years, and they can't wait for the new building to open its doors this June.
"The new school is amazing. It provides more children opportunities and meets their sensory needs," she said. "The playground is even designed for kids with autism. It's a miracle. I couldn't be more excited."
Tuition is funded on several tiers and is on a sliding scale for lower-income parents.
While the project is still $2 million short, several companies and individuals, including contractor Sahara, are donating supplies,10 boys are doing Eagle Scout projects on site, and more building materials and flooring are being delivered this week from companies donating time, shipping and supplies.
"We could not have done this without the generous help of the contractors," Wood said.
The Sahara company through its Sahara Cares foundations is a strong supporter of families struggling with autism.
"It's a feel-good project," project superintendent Corbin Holdaway said. Residents who would like to contribute to the school can join their Buy A Brick campaign. A puzzle piece paver is $500, a rectangular paver is $100. A message may be engraved on the brick.
For more information contact Lindsay at (801) 437-0490 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.