Thursday, April 7, 2011

Connecticut high school finally looks at becoming accessible so federal funds aren't lost

From The Day:

NEW LONDON, Conn. -- In an effort to hold on to more than $7.8 million in federal school funds, the city has hired a company to determine the costs associated with making the high school accessible to people with disabilities.

Friar Associates of Farmington will be paid $37,500 to identify what needs to be done to bring New London High School into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Bennie Dover Jackson Middle School will also be evaluated. The City Council awarded the contract Monday.

Friar Associates will review all ADA codes for the 40-year-old high school, will look at the air quality inside the building and scan the roof for indications of water and moisture damage. It will examine plumbing, electrical and code compliance at the middle school.

Councilor John Russell, co-chair of the School Building and Maintenance Committee, said the review will include a cost analysis of how much it will cost for repairs to bring the high school into ADA compliance vs. how much it would cost to "renovate as new.''

"We're in a touchy situation,'' Russell said. "If the city doesn't do something, we are in danger of losing that $7 million."

The state is a "financial partner'' with the schools, according to Tom Murphy, spokesman for the state Department of Education, and will share in the cost of renovations. New London is eligible for about 75 percent reimbursement for construction, he said.

In February, the school department said it was in danger of losing more than $7.8 million in federal funding because the high school does not meet ADA requirements.

The state education department did a routine inspection of the high school for the Office of Civil Rights and found classrooms, athletic fields, seating in the gymnasium, the swimming pool, bathrooms, the main entrance and parking all failed to meet the standards for handicapped accessibility.

The school district has been on a voluntary corrective action time line, which means it must show it is making a good-faith effort to remedy the problems.

The study is expected to take about 60 days and findings should be completed and presented to the City Council by June 30.

The City Council will determine if violations should be fixed or if it would be more cost-effective to renovate the entire school like new.

While two other studies have been done on the schools' noncompliance with ADA codes, those studies, one done in 2002 and the other in 2004, are outdated.