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'Profoundly retarded' will benefit from DAC project

There's not a lot for "profoundly retarded" people to do these days, but that's going to change by the end of summer, at least in Detroit Lakes.

There are 19 such clients at the Becker County Developmental Achievement Center in Detroit Lakes.

With IQs of 19 or less, they generally can't walk, talk, feed themselves or go to the bathroom without help.

They make up more than a fourth of the 72 clients who come to the DAC daily to learn work and living skills.

(In 20-point IQ increments, the other categories of retardation are severe, moderate and mild).

And they will benefit from a 4,100 square foot addition that will be built on the west side of the DAC building, near the DL Middle School.

Bids will be let within three weeks on the $637,000 project, with construction to be finished by the end of this summer, said DAC executive director David Peterson.

The heart of the addition will be a "sensory integration room" for the profoundly retarded, which will feature several stations dealing with the different senses -- touch, sight, sound, taste and smell, as well as movement and body awareness.

It could include such things as relaxing wheelchair rockers, exercise mats for physical therapy, simple computer interaction, and touching things that feel soothing against the skin.

Moving through the stations and interacting with the various senses "will help the clients to develop adaptive responses and feel more comfortable with the world around them," according to information from the DAC. "Working with clients through sensory integration therapy can help them to learn how to react to their environment in a normal way."

It could help calm that group of clients, which would make life a little easier for the four full-time DAC staff people who work with them, since some of the clients have behaviors that can be difficult.

The sensory integration room will occupy about a third of the new addition.

Another third will become a workshop area for higher functioning clients, who are paid for contract and piecework done for area businesses.

The rest will consist of a conference room, four staff offices and a small mechanical room.

With 22 clients in big motorized wheelchairs, the addition will also go a long way toward improving traffic flow within the building, Peterson said. "It's a pretty busy place during the day," he added.

The exterior of the addition will match the existing steel-frame building.

The project will be paid for with DAC savings and with a $437,000 loan from the U.S. Agriculture Department's Rural Development program. The loan will be administered through State Bank Mortgage and Loan, where Mark Hagedorn was instrumental in making the project happen, Peterson said. Becker County Human Services was also a key player in the planning and implementation process.

It was no easy decision to move ahead with the project, which the DAC has been mulling for several years, Peterson said. Gov. Tim Pawlenty's budget cut funding for the DAC one year and froze it the next year, he said. "But we decided to take the risk and build the addition ... maybe we can become the showcase in the area for these (profoundly retarded) people."

The DAC, open 220 days a year, operates several buses and other vehicles used to pick up clients and bring them home. It could really use a garage, but that will have to wait a few years, Peterson said.

The Becker County DAC is 40 years old, and has seen an increase in the number of lower-functioning clients in the last five to 10 years, Peterson said. The new addition is an attempt to meet the needs of those difficult-to-serve people.

There are 20 full-time and three part-time staff all together.

U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman announced the $437,000 USDA loan.

"I am pleased the Becker County Developmental Achievement Center has been selected for this funding," he said in a news release. "This low-interest loan will help them expand and improve their facilities, which will help them continue the great work they do for people with developmental difficulties."