Committee commits to better access

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Emily Bottinick, a senior at Naugatuck High School, told school officials that handicapped accessibility at the newly renovated school could be more convenient for people who use wheelchairs. Local officials have taken her concerns into consideration and will now make more renovations. -RA ARCHIVE
Emily Bottinick, a senior at Naugatuck High School, told school officials that handicapped accessibility at the newly renovated school could be more convenient for people who use wheelchairs. Local officials have taken her concerns into consideration and will now make more renovations. -RA ARCHIVE

NAUGATUCK — A Naugatuck High School student who uses a wheelchair has helped convince a committee overseeing the $81 million renovation project at the high school that the building should have better handicapped access.

The committee announced Monday that it is prepared to put tens-of-thousands-of-dollars worth of upgrades into the building to make it more accessible for people who use wheelchairs.

Specifically, the committee will allocate money to install doors that are power-assisted with push-button access at four locations of the building, and will put more sidewalk ramps around the facility.

Officials made that decision after hearing from Emily Bottinick, a 17-year-old senior, who has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair. She and her parents, Andy and Lori Bottinick, told the committee they were concerned about the lack of push button doors and sidewalk cutouts.

Committee Chairman Bob Neth said the committee took the Bottinicks’ concerns seriously.

“It’s extremely beneficial when you have students and parents who step up and say, ‘What about this?’” Neth said.

While the original plans for the building were in complete compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, or what is commonly referred to as the ADA code, the plans did not include power-assisted doors with push-button access.

They also only had one sidewalk cutout for a wheelchair to get down.

Committee members say they originally did not think about the issues someone who uses a wheelchair might experience, and thought the project was good because it complied with ADA.

Now the plan is to put power-assisted doors with push-button access at the main entrance, the auditorium, the athletic complex and the Board of Education offices, while adding more sidewalk cutouts at both ends of the building.

The Bottinicks brought their issues forward and discussed them with the Republican-American last month. The committee then invited Andy Bottinick, a Board of Finance member, to a meeting last month. He discussed the issues in detail, and the committee was moved to make the changes.

How much the upgrades will cost remains to be seen. The committee said Monday it did not have final figures on those upgrades, but is fully committed to them.

At this point, the committee anticipates a $4.1 million surplus from the project, so it will have more than enough money for the accessibility upgrades.

The committee is looking at a long list of enhancements that it could put that money toward — everything from technology upgrades to possibly purchasing four homes on Rubber Avenue to make more parking spaces and give passers-by a better view of the school.

Emily Bottinick is happy some of that money will make life easier for people who use wheelchairs, even though she will graduate before the renovations are complete.

“They are doing a good thing because it’s really going to help out a lot of people and it’s going to be a nice addition to the school once it’s done,” she said. “I’m glad they listened because I think something needed to happen there, so I’m glad I could help move it forward.”