Park restroom issue resolved

Door with ramp for disabled will be open on weekends

Published in the Asbury Park Press 08/19/05
BY NINA RIZZO
FREEHOLD BUREAU

(PHOTO: MIKE MC LAUGHLIN/SPECIAL TO THE PRESS)
The rear staircase leading to restrooms at the Thompson Park Visitor Center in Middletown doesn't accommodate people in wheelchairs or who are otherwise disabled. Monmouth County officials have decided to keep the building's front entrance, which is accessible, open on weekends.
FREEHOLD The Thompson Park Visitor Center in Middletown will now be open on weekends so people with disabilities will have access to its bathrooms, Monmouth County Freeholder William C. Barham announced Thursday.

Barham, liaison to the county park system, noted during a freeholder workshop meeting that the park system recently was criticized for locking the building's front doors on weekends, cutting off access to its bathrooms for people unable to climb the eight stairs leading to the rear door. The front entrance has a ramp for wheelchair use.

The Asbury Park Press reported on the controversy Wednesday.

"In response to the interest and encouragement of the community, we've decided to accelerate plans of opening the Visitor Center on weekends, starting this Saturday," Barham said. He said the center will be open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.

Laura Kirkpatrick, a spokeswoman for the park system, said earlier this week there were no plans to open the front entrance on weekends. She noted that the nearest handicapped-accessible bathroom is in the Craft Center, at the western end of the 665-acre park.

Bruce Gollnick, assistant superintendent for the park system, said that the county uses portable bathrooms that are handicapped-accessible in several parks and that there had been one in the parking lot bordering the Visitor Center, which was recently renovated at a cost of $3.6 million. The portable toilet was returned to that spot Wednesday and can be used at all hours, he said.

"This should eliminate any more discussion or discrepancies or issues related to handicapped-accessible bathrooms," Barham said, adding: "I want to stress the fact there were handicapped facilities on site maybe they were not the most accessible in the world, but they were there. But now we made them more accommodating."

Barham is a Republican who was appointed to the freeholder board in December and will compete in his first countywide election in November.

Violation of ADA

Eric Holland of the U.S. Department of Justice had said the park system violated the federal Americans with Disabilities Act if weekend access to the bathroom was limited to those who could climb stairs.

Holland, whose office enforces the disabilities regulations, said that in order to comply with the law, the park system must provide an entrance accessible to all if the building is to remain open.

Carolyn Schwebel, a Middletown resident who filed a lawsuit charging that the county violates ADA regulations at the Visitor Center and seven other county buildings, was pleased to hear about the sudden change.

"It's a good victory," she said. "It shows me they respond to public pressure, having things pointed out to them."

Schwebel, who relies on a wheelchair and a cane, said she hopes the decision to open the building on weekends preventing the ADA violation will encourage government entities to pay more attention when they design a building so they won't have to spend more money to remedy what should have been foreseeable problems.

Gollnick said the Visitor Center, which also houses executive offices, will be staffed by a park system employee. That staffer eventually may be replaced by an hourly worker.

This story includes material from previous Press stories. Nina Rizzo: (732) 308-7755 or nrizzo@app.com