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May 06, 2009

Need a Lift?

Editor's Note: Here's a new update from Aimee Picchi, who reported this week on the continuing debate about accessibility issues at Burlington's Edmunds Middle School. -- Margot Harrison

Edmunds Middle School needs a lift: The century-old building isn't accessible to people in wheelchairs or those with mobility issues.That may soon change. On Tuesday evening, the finance committee of the Burlington School Board received a feasibility report for adding an elevator to the five-story building. The upshot: The lift would cost the school district $1.58 million.

The biggest costs for the elevator: an estimated $410,000 to upgrade the school's electrical system and $300,000 to replace the school's fire alarm. The elevator equipment itself will cost $142,000. The board hopes to place the elevator plans on its website soon for the public to review.

Adding the first elevator would mark the first step in a longer-range plan to make the entire four-building Edmunds complex, including the elementary school, the cafeteria and the middle-school gym, accessible to the handicapped. Eventually the school would have several elevators and a ramp from Main Street into the cafeteria building, which would become the school's main entrance.

According to Burlington School District Superintendent Jeanne Collins, a seven-year phased plan to make each building compliant with the Americans With Disabilities Act will be ready in a few weeks. Much of Tuesday's meeting was taken up with a discussion of how to tap funding to pay for the proposed middle school elevator, with possibilities including grants, Federal stimulus dollars and private fundraising. Avoided at the meeting was much discussion of bonding to pay for the upgrades. Stay tuned.

Segregating children based on socioeconomic status, skin shade or physical ability is wrong. It is time for the lessons we learned during the civil rights movement to be applied to our community schools and end the segregation of children based on the shallow criteria of physical ability. Children who use wheel chairs are children first and children who use wheel chairs second. Children with physical challenges and families have the same hope, dreams and friendships that other children have. Ripping apart friendships and segregating children as they enter middle school is shameful. What lesson will our children learn if we continue to segregate based on physical ability? That only some children belong and we segregate children who are different? When we join together as a community to support making Edmunds Middle School accessible we teach our children that we respect diversity in our community and that making accommodations for the inclusion of all community members is the right thing to do.
Thank you,
Jennifer Hurley
Burlington resident and mother

Thanks to our school leaders for stepping up to address this problem that has been largely ignored for decades. I, for one, was overwhelmed by the show of broad public support for making Edmunds accessible at last week's school board committee meeting. It was amazing to hear from school nurses, physical and occupational therapists, community members who use wheelchairs, classmates of kids with disabilities, teachers, parents of children who will be segregated away from their siblings and peers, and others... many others. Now for the hard job of getting that first elevator into Edmunds Middle School... let's go!

Burlington voters just approved $12m in borrowing for the schools. No need for any additional bonding, since they knew about this problem a year ago... right?

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