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Southbridge compliance pricey

ADA accessibility will cost $300,000

March 10, 2003

Worcester Telegram & Gazette (MA)
Author: John Dignam

SOUTHBRIDGE -- The cost of bringing sidewalks and curb ramps into compliance with the American with Disabilities Act -- an estimated $125,000 -- makes up the largest part of an estimated $310,575 that it would take to remove physical barriers to town buildings and properties.

In the town's court-ordered Southbridge Accessibility Plan, consultant James M. Mazik said that while many curb ramps on the town's major roads are ``reasonably functional,'' many installed since 1999 don't meet standards.

He reported that many sidewalks need major repairs or replacement. And, he said, many accessible pathways on sidewalks are obstructed by utility poles, utility pole guy wires or fire hydrants.

In his report, Mr. Mazik said the town should consider accessible pedestrian signals for the sight-impaired at all intersections with traffic signals, an estimated 42 intersections.
Mr. Mazik, who is chief planner for the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission, will present the accessibility plan he developed to the Town Council at its meeting at 7 p.m. today. He already has presented the plan to the Commission on Disability, which hired him to write it.

A federal judge in November ordered the town to complete the plan by March 3 after it had failed to comply with a 2001 consent agreement to make public facilities accessible to the handicapped. He also ordered the town to allocate $5,000 to the commission and to pay about $4,000 in lawyers' fees.

The consent agreement came out of a June 2000 suit against the town by Charles Henries of Southbridge and Active Voices in Disability, an activists' group, to force the town to make all streets and walkways accessible to the disabled.

Mr. Mazik's report includes an evaluation of accessibility to town buildings and facilities, accessibility policies and procedures, identification of barriers to accessibility and a transition to remove the barriers.

He stressed at the commission's public hearing Feb. 27 on the plan that it was a "planning document'' of evaluations and recommendations and that the cost estimates could change.

Other major costs to remove barriers include:

$56,550 to improve recreation areas' accessibility, with handicapped parking areas, accessible routes of travel to and within the facilities, wheelchair-sitting areas, accessible picnic tables and accessible bathrooms or portable toilets.

$30,000 to bring into compliance with ADA the five public schools, which lack parking spaces accessible to vans, appropriate door levers, accessible routes of travel and signs.
Both the Town Hall and Casaubon Senior Center were reported as "marginally accessible.'' It would cost an estimated $27,000 to bring Town Hall inside doorways, counters, exterior ramp and entryways and parking into ADA compliance.

About $12,000 is the estimated expense to improve parking, doors, bathrooms and inside access improvements at the senior center.

Many buildings need only a few hundred dollars worth of work to bring them in compliance, according to the plan.

The town's newest buildings fared well. A curb ramp at the Jacob Edwards Library (renovated and expanded in 2000) is too steep, and the heights of some counters and bathroom fixtures are too high. Repair costs there were estimated at $1,900.

At the police station (built in 1997), $75 should pay to designate a parking space accessible to vans.

In the accessibility plan, Mr. Mazik said the town lacks -- and needs -- formal, separate policies and procedures pertaining to ADA and program accessibility, employment, nondiscrimination, grievances, equal opportunity and communications.

The Americans with Disabilities Act became law in 1990, but in the plan Mr. Mazik noted that law dealing with accessibility dates to 1968. He said that all local governmental agencies were required to complete self-evaluations of their facilities, programs, practices and policies by Jan. 26, 1993.

"Through the completion of the Southbridge Accessibility Plan, the town will be in compliance with certain provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act and will give people with disabilities an equal opportunity to participate in the mainstream of public life offered to all citizens,'' Mr. Mazik wrote.

Copyright (c) 2003 Worcester Telegram & Gazette Corp.
Record Number: 0303102900

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