Cavalier approach to building access
Published in the Asbury Park Press 08/18/05
Editorial Page
To close off the Visitors Center at Thompson Park in Middletown during the weekends when the number of visitors is greatest over the summer is ridiculous. But Monmouth County park officials also show a disgraceful lack of consideration for disabled patrons by limiting restroom access, too.

Weekend visitors at the county park are allowed use of the restrooms in the Visitors Center newly renovated to the tune of $3.6 million through a back entrance that's not wheelchair accessible. That's likely in violation of the federal Americans with Disabilities Act. It's certainly in violation of basic human respect.

Wheelchair users cannot go up the eight steps to the restrooms; they must find the Craft Center in the western end of the park. Yet there is no sign on the Visitors Center directing them there. And there's no paved public road between the two buildings; you'd have to drive there. That's beyond inconsiderate. It's a slap in the face that should be rectified by park officials.

"You can't just open and let people walk through" the building, said Laura Kirkpatrick, county parks' public information officer. Why not? They paid for it. It's their building.

A county park is not a Monday-to-Friday, 9 a.m.-to-5 p.m. business. And that building is the Visitors Center. It should be staffed on weekends and open for the convenience of the patrons.

Kirkpatrick said employee offices are located on the second floor, and there are security concerns that visitors will go there. Fine. Lock those offices or close off the second floor. But open the center for the people who paid for it, and who pay the salaries and benefits of those who work there.

Park officials did not consult with the county's Office on Disabilities to see if there was any ADA violation in only allowing that access, but rather an "internal committee" made the decision. That's unacceptable. Closing the back entrance, denying access to everyone, might avoid the ADA violation. But that's not the answer. Any changes should increase, not limit, use of the building.

County park officials should rewrite the schedule of hours for the Visitors Center and its staff, and open it for weekend programming. The people who paid for the park should be allowed complete access on weekends to the center and to its restrooms.