Town works to give access to handicapped
Published in the Asbury Park Press 2/05/04
STAFF PHOTO: THOMAS P. COSTELLO
For those with disabilities, using a stairwell in the West Front Street
library is out of the question in a building with no elevator. However,
borough officials say they are working to correct those deficiencies
with a $1.7 million renovation plan.
Red Bank aiming to meet U.S. Justice Department deadline
By ALISON WALDMAN
COASTAL MONMOUTH BUREAU
RED BANK -- In a wheelchair, one can only get so far inside the Eisner Memorial Red Bank Public Library on West Front Street.
On the ground level of the building, the book stacks are too narrow to
accommodate a wheelchair. There is no elevator leading downstairs,
where the children's department, community meeting rooms and restrooms
are located. The second floor, which houses the borough's archives,
also is only accessible by stairs.
The lack of access becomes an issue when the library hosts programs
that interest senior citizens who either cannot use the stairs or have
difficulty navigating the steps, said Deborah Griffin-Sadel, library
"We kind of sit there with our hearts in our mouths as they (visitors)
try to negotiate those stairs," she said, referring to the flight of
steps leading to the community meeting rooms.
The estimated $1.7 million project to renovate the library to increase
accessibility is one of the two last requirements the borough must
fulfill in its October 2002 settlement with the U.S. Department of
Justice to bring public facilities in compliance with the Americans
with Disabilities Act. Among other things, the act requires public
entities, such as municipal governments, to provide an equal
opportunity to access all programs, services and activities.
the federal law, signed in 1990, programs located in inaccessible
buildings must be relocated to a facility accessible to people with
STAFF PHOTO: THOMAS P. COSTELLO
People who must use a wheelchair cannot navigate some of the
bookshelves (above) in the Eisner Memorial Red Bank Public Library
Plans to improve the library, which has not been renovated in three
decades, include the addition of an elevator and handicapped-accessible
restrooms on the ground floor and rearranging existing offices and
resources to make better use of space, Griffin-Sadel said.
In the settlement, the borough agreed to update accessibility at its
senior center within six months. Within a year from the agreement,
changes and improvements had to be made to municipal parking lots, the
municipal complex, and Marine and Riverside Garden parks. The borough
has until October to make improvements to the library and Count Basie
Park on Henry Street.
The settlement is the result of a federal lawsuit brought by Carolyn Schwebel, 60, of Middletown.
Although Schwebel's complaint pertained to the number of handicapped
parking spaces and crosswalk paving stones, the Justice Department
launched a full investigation into access issues in borough buildings
The last two projects will either be completed or substantially under
way by the October deadline, Borough Administrator Stanley J. Sickels
The borough is applying for a $250,000 grant from the county for the
$643,705 project to improve the park that includes fields for baseball,
basketball, soccer and football. The borough will provide the remaining
Of that cost, changes to the bleachers, restrooms and access routes to
make the park's facilities ADA complaint will total an estimated
$160,000 for construction, engineering and inspection, Sickels said.
Sickels said the borough had already initiated plans to improve public
facilities before the settlement. The agreement simply sped up the
timetable, forcing the borough to absorb the costs all at once instead
of spacing out the projects, he said.
"People seem to forget that the borough had already initiated a lot of
improvements to its facil-ities before the Justice Depart-ment got
involved," said Sickels of work done at the senior cen-ter and borough
The paver stone crosswalks were not included in the settle-ment but were ultimately re-moved, Sickels said.
He said some of the changes ordered in the settlement in-cluded
adjusting the height and placement of signs, toilets and urinals by
fractions of an inch. The cost of prior ADA compli-ant improvements in
the bor-ough could not be determined yesterday.
A matter of inches in height or distance can make all the dif-ference
in access to someone using a wheelchair, said Schwebel, who is
co-chairwom-an of the Equalizers, a group of advocates for people with
disa-bilities. Diagnosed with cere-bral palsy as a child, she
some-times relies on a wheelchair for mobility.
"An inch might as well be a foot," Schwebel said. "A step may as well be 20 steps."
While some public facilities, both privately and publicly owned, claim
to be accessible, minor flaws in architectural details, such as the
placement of a grab bar in a restroom, can block entry for someone
using a wheelchair, she said.
Schwebel said she would like to see more attention paid to such details
in the initial planning stages, not after construction is completed.
"Retro-fitting is never as good as doing it right the first time," she said.
Schwebel, a retired guidance counselor, said her prior work with
handicapped children in-spires her to move forward in her advocacy
"What kind of world are they going to have?" said Schwebel.