New autism school coming to Baton Rouge

A new school specializing in educating children affected with autism spectrum disorders from preschool through age 20 will open in March at the site of the former Brighton Elementary School campus at 9150 Bereford Drive.

NHS Autism Center of the Capital Region, as the school will be called, will be run by NHS Schools, a Pennsylvania-based company that specializes in providing educational services to students on the autism spectrum. NHS operates 18 autism schools in Pennsylvania. This will be its first location outside of its home state.

NHS Executive Vice President Karen Markle says the Baton Rouge market was attractive for several reasons. Advocates lately have begun a real push to address the needs of those in the community on the autism spectrum, but the community doesn’t have anything comparable to the services NHS can provide.

“There is nothing else like it here,” Markle says. “Baton Rouge has great resources, but when we looked at where the needs were, there were things that were strengths of ours and we felt we could be part of the overall solution to create a network of support for children on the autism spectrum.”

The nonprofit organization acquired the 14,602-square-foot, two-story building earlier this month from Partridge Properties for an undisclosed price that was recorded in the East Baton Rouge Parish Clerk of Court’s office as $100. However, the property previously was listed for $1.4 million. Bill Sanders of Beau Box Commercial Real Estate represented the buyer, and Matthew Shirley of Saurage Rotenberg Commercial Real Estate represented the seller.

Brighton Elementary, which serves students with dyslexia and other related learning differences, has relocated to the campus of its upper school at 12108 Parkmeadow Ave.

NHS Autism Center of the Capital Region will open this spring, even though the school year will be winding down, then will begin a full school year in August. The school caters primarily to public school students, though it will also take private school students. All students, however, must be referred from their current school system.

“These are kids who need a specialized educational delivery,” Markle says. “They’re students with autism and they engage with their environment differently and they learn differently, so we provide all their educational needs but we do it in a way that is customized for how the students learn.”

Though this is NHS Schools’ first school outside of Pennsylvania, the company has a separate division that provides behavioral health services as a third-party provider to school districts around the country. That division of the company has been operating in parishes throughout the Louisiana for several years.

—Stephanie Riegel

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