The Record

By Kelly Ebbels

After some initial hesitation, village officials are now expressing a commitment to improving accessibility at Graydon Park.

Village Engineer Chris Rutishauser, resident Bev Rosengren, Councilman Paul Aronsohn, Councilwoman Bernadette Walsh, co-chair of the Preserve Graydon Coalition Marcia Ringel, and Village Manager Ken Gabbert discuss possible accessibility improvements at Graydon Park.

KELLY EBBELS/ THE RIDGEWOOD NEWS
Village Engineer Chris Rutishauser, resident Bev Rosengren, Councilman Paul Aronsohn, Councilwoman Bernadette Walsh, co-chair of the Preserve Graydon Coalition Marcia Ringel, and Village Manager Ken Gabbert discuss possible accessibility improvements at Graydon Park.

At a poolside meeting last Friday, village administrators, council members and residents pored over layout options drawn up by the Engineering Department to show how to improve accessibility for the wheelchair-bound and mobility impaired, with a focus on making access to both pool grounds and pool waters accessible via ramps, lifts, concrete platforms and guardrails.

Afterward, Village Manager Ken Gabbert said the village is dedicated to making such improvements.

“The village is committed to improving Graydon access for our residents,” Gabbert said in an e-mail this week. “The end result will be a facility that meets the needs of more residents and many more senior residents.”

The comments are a shift in sentiment from the village manager, who at recent council meetings has told Councilman Paul Aronsohn – the chair of the village’s Community Accessibility Network (CAN) – that Graydon accessibility improvements would be unlikely in the near future, since under federal law upgrades were not required unless other substantial construction was undertaken.

A new federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) law passed this year initially drew confusion among townships, facility owners and the press, who were led to believe certain facilities must become ADA-compliant by 2012; in fact, ADA compliance is only required when facilities undertake new construction.

Still, Director of Parks and Recreation Tim Cronin said on Friday, “Then there is the spirit of the law.”

Accessibility improvements wouldn’t simply benefit the wheelchair-bound, officials said, but also the elderly and those with other mobility restrictions, who need to use guardrails or a low-grade entrance to best access the pool.

“Many of us will have new hips and new needs,” said Nancy Bigos, deputy director of Parks and Recreation.

Village Engineer Chris Rutishauser discussed several access possibilities. To access Graydon Park from the outside, new ramps would ideally be constructed from the parking lot as well as from the Linwood Avenue entrance; currently, the pitches of the ramp and sidewalk are too steep, he said.

“After a day of swimming, I wouldn’t be able to make it up here,” said resident Deborah Glennon, a member of CAN, as she pushed her wheelchair up the sloped sidewalk toward Linwood Avenue.

To improve access to the pool itself, Rutishauser explained that two major upgrades would be appropriate: near the first aid station, a minimum grade ramp and a lift, where both would descend onto a submerged and gated concrete platform; and, by the northeast corner of the pool, a “zero-entry” sloped concrete access area with guardrails.

Also likely would be the purchase of a beach wheelchair, making sand access possible and which could be submerged in water, officials said.

Not all were in favor of moving ahead with the sweeping changes.

Marcia Ringel, co-chair of the Preserve Graydon Coalition, called the project “a boondoggle,” arguing that the facility improvements were excessive and would jeopardize the natural landscape of Graydon Park.

“This is going to be more and more concrete. It’s not what Graydon was meant to be like,” she said.

A more minimal, cautious approach was amenable to Ringel. She suggested beginning with the purchase of a beach wheelchair, and then investigating minimally invasive changes, such as using or adapting an existing sand-based entryway into shallow water.

Ringel and resident Bev Rosengren were not in favor of allowing handicapped pool users to swim in deep water, calling it a safety risk and liability. However, village officials said that adults over age 18 with handicaps or limitations would not have extenuating restrictions in accessing deep water.

Ringel also recommended that more sand be installed in shallow areas of the pool to make it easier for senior residents to access the water, as well as textured surfaces on existing ramps.

“There are countless ways to make a place accessible,” she said. “We’d really like this to be thought through very, very carefully.”

Still, Aronsohn said the progress made at the meeting was heartening.

“I’m encouraged,” he said. Now we’ve just got to keep moving forward.”