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Sun Could Be Setting On Austin State School

Updated: Thursday, August 14 2014, 09:56 PM CDT

The sun may be about to set on the Austin State School. On Wednesday, the Sunset Advisory Commission voted to recommend closing what is now known as the Austin State Supported Living Center. 

The center was originally created by the Texas Legislature in 1915. The facility serves as a home to 265 Texans with intellectual and developmental disabilities like autism and Down syndrome.           

Members of the Sunset Advisory Commission say it costs the state a lot more to have a resident live at the Austin State Supported Living Center than in a community group home. So, they want to shut the facility down. But, the 95 acres at 35th and MoPac are some of the most valuable in the Austin area. This has the families of some residents saying Wednesday's recommendation isn't just about saving money, it's about making it. 

For 12 years the Austin center has been home to Justin Wallace. He suffers from severe autism. His parents say with the care he gets at the center he's thriving. But the state's Sunset Advisory Commission recommends closing the facility. 

"It has been a rotten situation from the get-go," said Debra Wallace, Justin's mother. 

She got a letter in June saying Justin and 70 others with intellectual and developmental disabilities have to move. Some can go to group homes in Austin. Others, like Justin, will be forced to move 90 miles away to Brenham. 

"If you move him away from his family you're isolating him. The more handicapped you are the more you need your family," said Wallace. 

The current downsizing comes before the legislature votes on Wednesday's recommendation and after a history of reported problems at the 13 centers across the state. 

"Austin is a very competitive environment for medical professionals. It's hard to keep good staff," said Melissa Gale with the Department of Aging and Disability Services. 

Downsizing the Austin center by 71 residents will make it a more manageable size. But some parents think the recommendation to close it is more about the location of the center in Tarrytown and less about protecting residents. 

"They've had their eye on that property for a long time. I think a lot of different things going on here but I think one of them absolutely, unabashedly is a land grab," said Wallace. 

The money made from selling this land would reportedly be used to fund other programs for the disabled. The downsizing will continue at the Austin State Supported Living Center, but before it could close lawmakers would have to give their approval in the 2015 session.

By Bettie Cross

Sun Could Be Setting On Austin State School

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