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Accessibility is key in area schools

June 27, 2005|By MARLO BARNHART

marlob@herald-mail.com

Adding a classroom? Building a new school restroom?

Educators throughout the Tri-State area know that anytime work is planned on existing school buildings, accessibility standards always must be met.

As director of facilities management for Washington County Public Schools, Rodney Turnbough said few improvements, additions or renovations to school buildings are made without an eye toward offering or improving accessibility for all students, staff and visitors.

Since summer recess is the time when many of these projects are scheduled, Turnbough and his maintenance staff already have started their work.

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"Some of our older schools are in need of accessibility improvements," Turnbough said.

That includes Fountain Rock Elementary School on Lappans Road, which is getting two relocatable classrooms this summer that will have ramps when installed.

Built in 1970, Fountain Rock also is in need of a cafeteria, but with expected increases in enrollment, the added classroom space will have to come first, Turnbough said.

As of March, there were 337 students at the school. In the fall, 352 youngsters are expected, Turnbough said.

Fountain Rock isn't the only building where accessibility issues are being addressed.

The school system's print shop will move from the central office to Washington County Technical High School this summer, Turnbough said. Workers will add a second floor to an existing area with a high ceiling. The plan also calls for the installation of an elevator.

"Already, 17 of the school buildings in Washington County have either an elevator, a chair lift or both," Turnbough said. Most of those are fairly recent additions.

As carpeting wears out in school buildings, it often is being replaced with tile. Sometimes, there are cost and wear issues, but often it is for ease of movement by wheelchairs, Turnbough said.

In some instances, specific circumstances figure into the plans for accessibility updates at schools. Take the case of Boonsboro High School, which in the 2005-06 school year will be getting students with disabilities who previously attended the middle school next door.

"We're going to revamp a faculty room into an accessible restroom and relocate some special education rooms to accommodate these students," Turnbough said.

Sometimes, special equipment such as lifts that were purchased for particular special-needs students are passed along as the student moves through the grades.

"Communication between schools is vital ? it helps us plan," Turnbough said.

South Hagerstown High School is in line for five new relocatable classrooms, all of which will have ramps and be accessible to all, Turnbough said. Antietam Academy also is on the list for work this summer.

On the job in Washington County for one year, Turnbough came from a stint at Prince George's County Community College. He oversees a maintenance staff of 25, which soon will grow by three new employees.

"We have contracted out for the accessibility projects because there are companies that are up to speed on all the codes on these," Turnbough said. The regular maintenance personnel handle other improvements at schools.

In the Chambersburg (Pa.) Area School District, sometimes students and staff members with accessibility needs are moved around to buildings that will accommodate them, said Richard Bender, supervisor of buildings and grounds.

"Our schools are all pretty close to each other, so we can relocate students or staff quite easily," Bender said. Equipment such as lifts also are moved around so they will be available where needed.

His district is in the final stages of replacing three of the oldest elementary school buildings with new buildings, all of which have all the bells and whistles of modern accessibility. Two of those schools already are in service and the third is in the works, Bender said.

"All our bathrooms are accessible now," Bender said, noting that work currently is under way in Chambersburg Area Senior High School in that area.

Morgan County (W.Va.) Schools are also in good shape on accessibility issues, said Tom Grove, maintenance department supervisor. But he added that recent work done always has factored into those accommodations to bring the schools within compliance.

"We did some work on the sidewalks at Greenwood Elementary School and when we did, we tapered them for accessibility," Grove said.

Four years ago, when major renovations were completed at Berkeley Springs High School, the finished addition included numerous ramps and an elevator, Grove said.

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