Montague reviewing its ADA compliance

  • The Carnegie Library on Avenue A in Turners Falls is one of the public buildings that has been identified as having some accessibility issues. Recorder File Photo

Recorder Staff
Thursday, June 14, 2018

TURNERS FALLS — For the most part, Montague and its five villages are “in good shape” regarding compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act according to a recent self-evaluation.

However, there are still a few steps the town needs to take to become fully accessible to those with disabilities.

A public forum held Tuesday discussed this year’s ADA self-evaluation and transition plan, which was completed by the Franklin Regional Council of Governments (FRCOG). Those working on the plan, town government employees and concerned residents came to the meeting to discuss the evaluation findings and voice concerns.

The last evaluation and transition plan was completed 17 years ago in 2001, and many improvements to the town’s accessibility have been made since then.

The two major infrastructure findings of the evaluation raised the issue that the Gill-Montague Regional School District administration building and the Carnegie Library’s children’s program are not accessible to disabled people.

However, the evaluation found out that most public buildings in Montague have ADA-accessible bathrooms.

Carnegie Library Director Linda Hickman admits the library has its accessibility issues but assured meeting participants that the library is taking measures to amend these issues.

“It is certainly something the library staff and trustees have been familiar with,” she said of the accessibility.

An architect will soon be coming to the library to do a study on how to make the building more accessible, she said.

Hickman also reminded people that while the second-floor children’s program is not wheelchair-accessible, the library does its best to reach out to disabled people. For example, there is a program where the library delivers books and other materials to people who can’t physically make it to the library.

Next steps

According to Megan Rhodes, senior transportation and land use planner of Franklin Regional Council of Governments (FRCOG), the next step for the plan includes taking all recommendations, discussing them with town authorities and ensuring the correct issues have been identified.

“Then, we prioritize them,” she said. Tasks will be prioritized based on whether they are more or less costly and which department is responsible for the fix. Some fixes will be relatively simple, like repainting crosswalk lines or installing grab bars in bathrooms. Larger projects which will take more planning include making the GMRSD building and Carnegie Library more accessible.

Since these upgrades cannot be done for free, Montague will look for available grants to apply for to make costs more manageable.

Community concerns

Rodney Madison, who lives in Turners Falls and attended the meeting, mentioned that he has friends in wheelchairs who do not believe downtown Turners is accessible.

“You can’t say the town is accessible if the downtown is not accessible,” he said.

Town Administrator Steve Ellis says he certainly believes all public buildings in town should be made accessible to everyone, but reminded meeting participants that there is no simple answer to make that happen. He also said the town will take “full advantage” of any grants it can.

A portion of the meeting was meant for attendees to discuss other ADA issues that have not yet been addressed. Ramsey mentioned that a Montague Center sidewalk that leads to the Bookmill is too narrow and not ADA accessible.

Hickman brought up the issue of inadequate ice and snow removal near the library, leaving employees to walk down the center of the street to get to the library.

Also, the need for handicapped seating at the Shea Theater was discussed.

Betty Tegel, a Turners Falls resident, has been instrumental in moving the process along. She has advocated for more safety and access for handicapped people for years. Thanks to her collaborative work with town government officials, the Massachusetts Office on Disability (MOD) supplied a grant which allowed the old ADA plan to be updated.

A second grant submitted by Ellis allowed sidewalk projects in town to be completed, making sidewalks and curb cuts safer.

Tegel says the ADA transition plan is a working document and will be updated frequently with new findings.

“The goal is to address ADA non-compliant issues,” she said.

From there, more grant money will be sought after.

“It’s been a process,” Tegel said. “This is huge to have (the plan) updated.”