Mitchell Daily Republic: Laurent proposal gaining support

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

By SETH TUPPER, The Daily Republic

SALEM - Judging by public comments, support is growing for a planned sign-language town in McCook County.

About 200 people attended a meeting Tuesday evening at the Salem National Guard Armory, and nobody spoke out against the impending construction of a town named �Laurent.�

Instead, audience members listened to town planner Terry Sanford discuss his agenda for a week-long master-planning workshop March 20-26.

Sanford, of Nederveld Associates Inc. in Grand Rapids, Mich., was hired by The Laurent Company. He will lead the workshop March 20-26 at Camp Lakodia near Madison, and he hopes to emerge with a plan to begin construction next fall. The proposed site of the town is the south side of the Interstate 90/U.S. Highway 81 intersection, although The Laurent Company has not yet closed its land negotiations.

Marvin Miller, of Salem, the deaf visionary behind the project, said the land talks would be finalized before the week-long planning workshop begins.

�I have three kids here and a baby at home,� Miller told the audience. �I want them to live there before they get big.�

Miller spoke only in response to questions from the audience. Most of the meeting was conducted by Sanford, who conducted a presentation on the merits of the week-long planning session known as a �charrette.�

Sanford described the Laurent charrette as a collaborative process including his own team, the Laurent developers, representatives of state and local government, and other interested parties. He invited the public to attend and participate.

The Laurent project is thought to be the first effort of its kind since a community of signers in Connecticut faded away during the 1950s.

�It really is an event that has the potential to have a real historic impact,� Sanford said.

About 50 of the people at the meeting indicated, by a show of hands, that they will attend portions of the charrette. Their eagerness kept the meeting on a positive track, unlike the first Salem gathering hosted by The Laurent Company in January 2004.

At that first meeting, several people voiced opposition. They feared the new town would draw business away from Salem, which is located three miles north of Laurent�s potential site.

County Commissioner Ralph Dybdahl, who attended Tuesday�s meeting, said many of the early fears have subsided.

�People�s attitudes are a lot different than they were then,� he said. �I think it�s probably the result of more facts, figures, ideas, explanations and communication.�

The shift in attitudes is largely attributable to Miller and his hearing mother-in-law/business partner, M.E. Barwacz, also of Salem.

Miller was perhaps the most effective communicator at Tuesday�s meeting despite his reliance on a sign-language interpreter. He joked easily with the audience and elicited several rounds of laughter and applause.

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