Friday, September 11, 2009

Edmunds will be accessible this time next year!

Hallelujah! It's official... the Burlington School Board allocated the funding necessary for Phase 1 of improving Edmunds... complex-wide overhaul of the electrical system and the fire alarms... and a brand-spanking-new first-ever elevator (five stop) in the middle school.

Congratulations to all the advocates, our school leaders, the kids, and our whole community... all of whom will benefit directly or indirectly. Bravo. Here's Molly Walsh's take on it in the Free Press yesterday...
Next year at this time, one of Burlington's old school buildings should be more accessible to students and others who use wheelchairs.

The city School Board voted unanimously Tuesday to install an elevator in the Edmunds Middle School on Main Street and make electrical and fire safety changes that will cost about $1.55 million. The vote came after more than a year of lobbying by parents, school employees and community members who said the building's many stairs block access to classes, school plays, voting and First Night performances.

Under current district practice, students who use wheelchairs and would normally be districted to Edmunds Middle are assigned to Hunt Middle School in the city's New North End.

Valerie and Michael Wood-Lewis, South Enders whose 9-year-old son has cerebral palsy, led the drive for access and argued that it was wrong to segregate students with disabilities. Scores of people attended public meetings -- including school staffers who spoke of not being able to get up and down stairs in casts, and grandparents who couldn't climb up to the third floor classrooms for open houses.

The vote will help make a beautiful historic building more accessible to everyone, Valerie Wood-Lewis said. "I'm just thrilled for the whole community that this is moving forward."

Community members have complained for years about the building's lack of access. The School Board had proposed improvements as part of a large bond that fizzled last fall, and it looked as though the building could remain off limits to wheelchair users for years.

Parents and others lobbied hard for the changes last spring, and the School Board put the project on the front burner. "We were able to accelerate this a little faster than we expected so I think everybody's pretty pleased," said Fred Lane, chairman of the Burlington School Board.

The board will use leftover bonding capacity money from fiscal year 2009 and about $300,000 in federal grant money to pay for the project, which is expected to go out to bid in March. Construction should begin as soon as school lets out.

The first phase will cover only a portion of the changes needed. For example, wheelchair users bound for the middle school building will have to enter through a door at the adjacent Edmunds Elementary School and cross over to the middle school via a ramp in a connecting building.

"It's a start," Valerie Wood-Lewis said.

Contact Molly Walsh at 660-1874 or

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