Helping a Vital Houston Nonprofit Enter a New Era

In 1947, four Houston parents banded together to fulfill a common goal: teaching their hearing-impaired children to communicate orally.

They launched the Houston School for Deaf Children in an old two-story house on Austin St. Over the years, the school vastly expanded its services, and in 1994 changed its name to The Center for Hearing and Speech (CHS). The Center would go on to become a renowned institution offering audiology, speech therapy, and specialized early childhood education to thousands of children with hearing loss in the Houston area.

Today, once again, a group of committed individuals, including lawyers at V&E, have joined forces to help CHS move into a new era.

The Houston School for Deaf Children on Austin St. opened in 1947.

The Houston School for Deaf Children on Austin St. opened in 1947.

A new home for CHS

In 2020, CHS is slated to relocate to a 42,000 square foot state-of-the-art campus situated in the Texas Medical Center complex, allowing the nonprofit to double the number of children it can serve. As part of a pending collaboration agreement with Texas Children’s Hospital (TCH), the CHS facility will house ear, nose and throat medical professionals from TCH, making it easier for parents to access multiple services for their children in one location.

“Most of our clients are big businesses. It’s also important to represent institutions like this one, which is providing a great service to the community.”

The ambitious project, funded in part by a $22.5 million capital campaign, owes much to CHS’ board of directors, its leadership, generous donors, and others who have helped along the way.

V&E steps up to help

Among those who have played an important role is V&E’s Scot Dixon, a counsel in the firm’s Real Estate practice group. Dixon had been providing pro bono legal services to CHS on and off for a number of years, when in 2017 V&E Capital Markets and Mergers & Acquisitions partner Alan Beck asked him if he would be willing to work on the project. Beck, a CHS board member, has been spearheading V&E’s overall efforts to support CHS.

Not only did Dixon say yes, he has spent hundreds of hours advising CHS over the course of two and half years.

“Most of our clients are big businesses,” Dixon said. “It’s also important to represent institutions like this one, which is providing a great service to the community.”

V&E represented CHS in the sale of its previous location on West Dallas St.

V&E represented CHS in the sale of its previous location on West Dallas St.

Making sure all the pieces fit together

To date, Dixon’s work has involved representing CHS on three real estate transactions related to the move: the sale of the organization’s old property on West Dallas St., the lease of a temporary space at the former Brock Elementary School, and the execution of a 50-year ground lease with Texas Medical Center.

Much was hanging on the success of the real estate deals. CHS was banking on the proceeds from the sale of its previous location to help fund the construction of the new facility. The timing of each transaction had to be carefully coordinated in order to ensure that CHS could continue to operate seamlessly.

Making matters more complex, CHS had been a co-owner of its former home on West Dallas St. along with The Harris Center for Mental Health and IDD. Getting both CHS and The Harris Center aligned was critical in getting the deal done.

Then there was the matter of finding a temporary home while CHS’s new location was under construction. The ultimate acquirers of CHS’s West Dallas location were not interested in a sale-leaseback arrangement. As a result, Dixon had to negotiate a lease with the Houston Independent School District allowing CHS to temporarily occupy the Brock Elementary School site.

“We had to make all the pieces fall into place,” Dixon said.

Sure enough, last summer CHS closed on the sale of the West Dallas property and has broken ground on its new location. The Center is set to move into its new home in the fall of 2020.

In addition to providing pro bono real estate work, a team of V&E lawyers has also worked on other legal matters including supporting CHS’s admission as a member of the Texas Medical Center, advising on a collaboration agreement and lease with TCH, documenting senior management transition, and handling corporate governance matters.

Such efforts have not gone unnoticed. In fact, CHS plans to pay tribute to V&E during its upcoming “Via Colori” fundraising event. Via Colori is an annual street painting festival held in downtown Houston where artists from around the world create chalk art on the city streets. CHS plans to honor V&E’s service by dedicating an artist’s painting to the firm.

An organization that improves kids’ lives

Both Dixon and Beck said they are inspired by the CHS’s core mission: to enable children with hearing loss to reach their full potential. In pursuit of that mission, CHS offers three categories of services, The Melinda Webb School where children aged 18 months to six years receive specialized instruction to accelerate their development of spoken language, a speech clinic, and an audiology clinic.

Dixon said he was particularly moved after learning about the Center’s work with cochlear implants — surgically implanted devices that offer some patients with hearing loss a sense of sound.

“CHS’s results speak for themselves. It’s very common for a child to enter CHS’s system and by the time that child reaches kindergarten age, he or she will be integrated into a mainstream classroom and will be functioning at a high level alongside children who have no hearing or speech challenges,” Dixon said. “It’s a magical place.”

Watch Breanna’s cochlear implant being activated at The Center for Hearing and Speech.