Student speaks on accessibility concerns

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Emily Bottinick of Naugatuck, a senior at Naugatuck High School, believes handicapped accessibility at the newly renovated school could have been more convenient for people in wheelchairs. She said she wants to help people who use wheelchairs who will come to the school after she is gone. –REPUBLICAN-AMERICAN
Emily Bottinick of Naugatuck, a senior at Naugatuck High School, believes handicapped accessibility at the newly renovated school could have been more convenient for people in wheelchairs. She said she wants to help people who use wheelchairs who will come to the school after she is gone. –REPUBLICAN-AMERICAN

NAUGATUCK — Brand new classrooms and athletic complexes glisten at the soon-to-be fully renovated Naugatuck High School, which is undergoing an $81 million facelift that is nearly complete.

But there are certain amenities missing, according to one Naugatuck High School senior, who uses a wheelchair. Emily Bottinick, who has cerebral palsy, says that while the renovations may be in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, some areas of the building leave much to be desired for someone who uses a wheelchair.

One of the biggest issues Bottinick has with the building is that none of the doors in the complex are power-assisted with push-button access. There is also no electronic device on most doors allowing for people in wheelchairs to call for help getting in or out of the building.

So, in order to get outside, Bottinick has to lean forward to push the bar on the door, kick the bottom of the door with her feet and then wheel forward slightly so her back wheel can hold the door until she maneuvers out.

On top of that, there is an exit from the school’s gymnasium that states it is handicapped-accessible, which is true. However, once Bottinick manages to get out the door, she has to push herself down a sidewalk more 50 yards, maneuvering around two street sign poles that were installed in the concrete sidewalks, to get to the next cutout, or concrete ramp. The concrete sidewalks are about six inches above the parking lot pavement.

The gymnasium is handicapped-accessible by another door near the pool. Still, the opposite door causes an inconvenience, according to Bottinick and her parents.
The Bottinicks, who are actively involved in the community — Emily’s father, Andy, is on the Board of Finance and previously was chairman of the police commission — said they are not looking for much. They would like to see a sidewalk cutout near the gymnasium entrance in question and at least one push-button door.

When Andy Bottinick questioned whether those changes would be implemented, the construction manager overseeing the project said through email that they would not. Still, Burgess Bob Neth, who chairs the committee overseeing the project, said he would like to learn more from the Bottinicks and will look further into their concerns.

Andy Bottinick, a personal injury attorney, said, “I think we’re just kind of disappointed, not even so much for the kids with handicaps but also for grandparents who watch kids play sports.

“We are also disappointed that there wasn’t any thought of power-assisted doors,” he said. “I’m sure there is no mall in America that doesn’t have at least one set of power-assisted doors. Some of the doors are very heavy. And for $81 million, it should have been possible to put at least one power-assisted door there.”

Lori Bottinick, who works as a library aide in the Naugatuck school district, has been an outspoken advocate for her daughter. She attends nearly every Board of Education meeting to learn more about the district and often speaks about handicapped-accessibility issues within schools.

“I don’t believe it’s (ADA) code that they have to have a push-button door, but myself, as a taxpayer in this town, for $81 million dollars, I think they could have had one entry with a button,” she said.

The committee overseeing the renovation has been discussing what projects it would complete with any additional money if the project comes in under budget, as anticipated. Those include adding bleachers at athletic fields, air conditioning and new tables for the cafeteria, a storage facility for athletic equipment, nets for the baseball and softball fields and possibly purchasing five homes in front of the high school to make more parking spaces and give people a better view of the school. However, there have been no discussions, thus far, about ADA upgrades.

Emily is graduating in the spring and is not so much worried about herself. She is concerned for others, some of whom are her friends.

“I just want to make life easier for the people who will be here after the renovation is complete,” she said.