The Ridgewood Patch

By Erin Kelly

Despite resistance from the Preserve Graydon Coalition and confusion regarding federal regulations, the village is taking a “multi-pronged approach” to improving accessibility at Graydon Pool, village officials say.

After initially believing Graydon Pool would be forced to update its facility to provide greater access to the disabled by March of 2012 per changes to the American Disabilities Act, village officials now say the sand-bottom pool does not fall under that umbrella. However, changes are still expected.

“Even if we’re not forced to [improve accessibility], we still would like to accommodate people with physical handicaps,” Parks and Recreation Director Tim Cronin said.

The most recent steps toward improvements have been taken by Village Engineer Chris Rutishauser in collaboration with pool manager Steve Diamond and Deputy Director of Parks and Recreation Nancy Bigos. Rutishauser has developed preliminary plans to create an access ramp from the existing walkway around the pool, to the water’s edge at the northeast corner of the facility. That ramp would lead to a second ramp descending into the water along the wall line.

But first, the village must figure out a way to get a handicapped individual into the facility, Rutishauser said in an interview with Patch. The ramp that currently exists at the entrance of the pool is too steep and does not meet present-day ADA compliance standards.

One proposed idea includes creating a ramp or way of access from the parking lot to the sidewalk on Linwood Avenue, where there is an entry gate. The next step, under that plan, would be making entrance into the facility at that gate ADA compliant.

Another possiblilty to ease movement within the facility is to provide “transfer” wheelchairs at Graydon that would be better suited for sand and water conditions.

Though these ideas are thorough, obstacles, such as the steep slope of the land, lay ahead.

Members of the grassroots Preserve Graydon Coalition (PGC) are skeptical about any plans for change at the sand-bottomed recreation facility, and believe the village may be acting too hastily.

“We support accessibility while cautioning that quite often the best-intentioned efforts made for one group of disabled people can turn into a hindrance for others, including the non-disabled,” said Marcia Ringel, co-chair of the Preserve Graydon Coalition, in an email.

Ringel is also concerned about how any renovations or changes would impact the natural landscape at Graydon. (The group had previously expressed anger at the introduction of “The Wibit,” an inflatable raft that they’ve coined an eyesore and poor allocation of scarce resources.)

The co-chair believes Graydon has been paved over sufficiently, and additional cubic inches of impermeable surfaces installed at Graydon could jeopardize its ability to protect surrounding and downstream structures, including homes, the Village Hall and the library during and after heavy rainfall.

“For this reason and others, including the preservation of open space, we would oppose the installation of a large concrete ramp from the patio into the deep end, as has been suggested, or anything similar,” she said.

In the past, the Engineering Department suggested a “lift” that would pick up an individual by the patio area and place them in the water.

For some, a lift is the only way to gain access into the pool, said Tricia Mueller, a member of Community Access Network (CAN). Mueller has a 14-year-old daughter confined to a wheelchair and has eagerly shared her ideas to help make Graydon ADA compliant with the Engineering and Parks and Recreation Departments.

Debi Glennon, who has Multiple Sclerosis, also favors a lift over a ramp. A ramp would leave her requiring assistance getting in and out of the water, whereas a lift would allow her to access the pool on her own.

“I think, as a disabled person, it’s a matter of pride that I can be self-sufficient. In my opinion, just putting in the lift would make me independent and would make the whole experienceless time consuming.”

The idea of a “lift,” however, was not entirely well-received.

“The Preserve Graydon Coalition has made an opinion known about [a lift]…They were not too thrilled,” Rutishauser said.

No definite plans are in the works just yet—which is the way Ringel prefers it.

“No actual project has been announced, we hope none is secretly in the works,” Ringel said. “All meetings have been preliminary.”

While Rutishauser confirmed that nothing is set in stone, ideas are churning. In July, village administrators, council members and residents gathered at Graydon to view and discuss options.

“We have to draw [plans] up, design it with the specified slopes and see how it looks, and then present it to the various stakeholders involved in this project,” Rutishauser said.

Rutishauser has encouraged input for ideas from members of the Councilman Paul Aronsohn-led Community Access Network (CAN), an organization dedicated to discussing and addressing access issues in the village.

“Graydon belongs to all Ridgewood residents, and it should therefore be accessible to all Ridgewood residents. I hope and expect that we all agree with that point,” Aronsohn said in an email.

Though the Preserve Graydon Coalition may oppose any changes that require pavement, Ringel is not opposed to the concept of increasing accessibility at Graydon, she said. Her hope is that the village can achieve ADA compliance without constructing or installing expensive, complicated equipment or permanent concrete structures.

Instead, she suggests adopting a similar approach to Allendale’s Crestwood Lake, where ADA compliance is achieved through portable rollout access pathways and a beach wheelchair that can roll over sand and into water.

“Perhaps a grant could be found to obtain such a wheelchair, or one could be donated, as a trial first step—in a shallow area of Graydon.”

Though some may wonder about the potential staffing, safety and liability issues, Rutishauser said any future designs in the works will address safety concerns for lifeguards, who will receive extra training to accommodate swimmers with special needs.

Only after a design is produced and approved will the village be able to do a cost assessment, Rutishauser said. Once that is done, the village will apply for grant funding.

As a design engineer, Rutishauser is tasked with creating designs that enable access for all citizens, he said. Achieving ADA compliance at Graydon will not only help those with disabilities, but it will also help those who are aging or just need a little extra help, Rutishauser added.

“Once we come up with a design, everybody gets to comment on it and if we have to make changes to make [the plans] work better, we will.”