Handicap accessibility goes on school ballot

Handicap accessibility goes on school ballot

Xavier Palacios file photo by Rohma Abbas

Huntington school district may soon make ramps and restrooms more accessible to people with disabilities.

The school board approved the addition of the capital reserve proposition to the May 17 ballot with a six to one vote at a meeting on March 21.

If passed, the proposition would use almost $2.5 million of the district’s building improvement fund, or capital reserve, to update eight Huntington schools and make them compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Superintendent Jim Polansky said the desire to become compliant with the ADA was not mandated, but it’s possible the state could block other capital improvement propositions if ADA requirements within a district are not met.

“There are some needs that really should have been addressed as far back as 20 years ago,” Polansky said at the meeting. “We’re not looking to refit the entire building. We’re looking to just put the basics in place. Those basics are ramps and at least one bathroom.”

Polansky said there are contingency plans in place for emergencies that might arise during the course of a school year which would require a ramp in or out of a Huntington district building, but this proposition would provide permanent solutions.

J. Taylor Finley Middle School, Jack Abrams STEM Magnet School and Flower Hill Primary School are among several of the buildings that would be equipped with ADA-compliant restrooms. ADA-compliant ramps would be added to a few schools, including Woodhull Intermediate School, Jefferson Primary School and Huntington High School. The high school would also get an ADA-compliant wheelchair lift and a compliant locker room restroom.

Xavier Palacios was the lone board member against adding the proposition to the ballot.

“These ADA requirements or suggestions have been around for almost two decades and we’ve submitted several capital proposals and they’ve never been stopped in the past, have they?” Palacios asked prior to the vote.

Polansky called it a roll of the dice to submit a different capital proposition to the state prior to making the ADA-compliant upgrades. “Aside from the fact that I think it’s the right thing to do,” he added.

“How do we prioritize this over needing a new roof?” Palacios asked.

Another board member, Jennifer Hebert, weighed in on the discussion.

“We don’t want to have a student showing up needing these kinds of accommodations and have to be retrofitting it as they’re in the building,” Hebert said. “We should do it now, so that if and when we have students that have these needs, we’ve already got everything equipped for them in the building.”

The state comptroller’s office released an audit report in March, which concluded Huntington exceeded the amount of money legally allowed in capital reserves for the previous three school years. By law, a district cannot have more than 4 percent of the ensuing school year’s budget saved in capital reserves, according to the report. Any money over that limit must be used to make improvements in the district. Thus, this proposition would help the district use the money currently sitting in its reserve fund.