Sunday, February 20, 2011

School Accessibility, Revisited

Last month, Burlington took a big step toward providing accessible schools to the community. Almost two years ago, I wrote a piece for Seven Days VT about the hurdles that face people with mobility issues when they try to enter Edmunds Middle School, one of Burlington's two middle schools and also a voting site for many people in the city. The building, built over a century ago, had formidable steps at its entrances and no elevator to allow disabled people to move between its floors.

But after dedicated work by members of the community, including Michael Wood-Lewis of the Front Porch Forum (seen in the photo, getting ready for the elevator's inaugural ride), the school board created plans and found funding for an elevator. It was wonderful to return to the middle school last month for the unveiling of the elevator, which was attended by school board members, educators, and families who supported the work, and write an update for Seven Days' staff blog, Blurt, about the event. While many people supported the work, there are others who are skeptical, as evidenced by some of the comments written in response to the blog posting. The elevator's cost was $1.5 million -- with most of the expense due to the electrical and construction work that needed to be done to update the building so that the elevator would actually run --and some of the commenters were upset at what they viewed as too high a price.

No doubt that $1.5 million is a lot of money. But given that it was debatable whether the school was in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act and that it certainly wasn't meeting the needs of the community, the work was long overdue. The bigger question facing Burlington, and many communities, seems to be how to fund schools so that children receive an excellent education at a time when coffers are drawing low and taxpayers are increasingly questioning spending.