Making Rye Town accessible

Town leaders look to add more ADA compliance features to Crawford Park and Oakland beachfront

By John Donegan

This story originally appeared in the 7/23/21 edition of the Westmore News. For the original article, follow the link.

When walking around town or going out for a beach day, very few probably think about whether they will be able to get onto the sidewalk or if there will be an entrance without stairs. But for those with physical disabilities, barriers to access are a difficult reality.

With this concept in mind, Town of Rye officials recently finished their latest round of accessibility renovations for two of the Town’s most popular public resources: the Crawford Mansion Community Center and Rye Town Park, which includes Oakland Beach.

Residents and visitors who use a wheelchair want to enjoy the Town’s amenities, whether that’s enjoying Rye Town Park’s ocean views under the pavilions or playing on the playground at Crawford Park. But the locality responsible for ensuring they have access to all that Rye Town has to offer needs some extra help.

Addressing accessibility barriers throughout the community is an ongoing priority of the current Rye Town administration, according to Town Supervisor Gary Zuckerman. He believes the Town needs to become more compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which coincides with their goal of restoration of the parks.

“Integrate so that there’s no distinction between abled and handicapped, that’s the philosophy,” Zuckerman said on a tour of the parks on Monday, July 12.

Construction on the second of two new oceanfront beach ramps at Rye Town Park finished in June. Also included in the plans were the expansion and repaving of park walkways which connect the beach, parking lot and offices. The additions and improvements stem from three grants the town received in 2018 and 2020 totaling $650,000.

Penalties for ADA infractions are severe, potentially costing upwards of $100,000. Complaints can also be used as factors in lawsuits that arise over situations of personal injury or discrimination towards those with disabilities.

A 2011 study found that many of the historic buildings at Rye Town Park lack ADA compliance, with conditions only worsening in the ensuing years. When Zuckerman took office in 2016, he noticed that few public facilities were accessible.

“Under ADA, we have to do it,” Zuckerman said. “It’s not like, ‘oh, we need a lawsuit or a threat of a lawsuit to do it.’ The law in this case conjoins with our own desire. We want to get it done.”

“It was our obligation to be ADA complaint,” Rye Town Administrator Debbie Reisner added.

To further show their support, the Town is sponsoring the nonprofit Westchester Disabled on the Move, Inc.’s celebration of the 31-year anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The event will take place from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Monday, July 26, at the Crawford Park pavilion.

The Town’s need for ADA compliant facilities has coincidentally worked for the better. They apply for each grant under the pretense of needing ADA compliant fixtures, which has procured the funding for otherwise costly renovations to the parks beyond ramps, widened entrances and such. Since 2016, the Town has received over $1 million in grant monies to renovate these spaces.

“Making it accessible also includes fixing up what had been falling apart,” Zuckerman said.

More projects planned for Crawford and Rye Town Parks

With its “universal access” playground, sensory garden, renovated Crawford Mansion Community Center and leveled driveway, Crawford Park is almost finished, according to Zuckerman. The funding for these projects came from over $500,000 in county and state grants and a $6 million bond issued in October 2017. All the Town wants to add now is accessible bocce courts in the mansion’s backyard and an exercise circuit bordering the grounds.

“We have a path that we are about to renovate thanks to a SAM grant that Assemblyman (Steve) Otis reached,” Reisner said. “We want exercise stations put in for adults that are ADA accessible.”

Reisner and Zuckerman said they took into great consideration suggestions from several disability advocates and organizations and acknowledged they were crucial to the development’s effectiveness.

“When we were starting, we had people from the disability community and also a member from the United Cerebral Palsy talking about how the disabled community really needs to be integrated with the typical child,” Zuckerman said. “And that’s what this is designed to do.”

Meanwhile, Rye Town Park has the new beach ramps but still needs accessible mats to connect them to the water’s edge, beach level restrooms and public offices.

The Zuckerman administration hopes to eventually add a bathroom section to the currently locked gateway located on the beachfront. The path, which leads up into the tower building, has major foundational issues as well as a bathroom far too small to be wheelchair accessible.

“It’s not like ‘maybe we’re going to do it,’” Zuckerman explained. “We have drawings of everything laid out.”

Additionally, renovations need to be made to the bathhouse, which was closed from 2015 to 2018 after it was discovered to be susceptible to ADA code violations involving wear to the roof, walls and floors. Now the bathhouse has a new roof but a noncompliant interior—the stalls are too small, and the counters are too high.

“None of these are accessible,” Zuckerman said, pointing to the bathroom stalls inside the bathhouse. “And, in addition, everything is falling down from the roof. When we do the interior and make it all accessible, it’ll be part of a total bathroom renovation. You can see the roof is done, but the rest of it wasn’t.”

The Town applied for two federal Community Development Block Grants, administered by Westchester County, in June to pay for the bocce courts, exercise circuit and bathhouse additions. They expect to submit four more applications by the end of July.

Each grant caps at $250,000. The ramps alone cost $562,000. ADA grants such as these, according to Reisner, take around six months for consideration. They expect to hear back by December.

They also want to move the Rye Town Park permit office to the bathhouse where it will be handicap accessible. In the past, beach security has had to carry people up the stairs to the permit office.

The cost of renovating the bathhouse interior is still undetermined. Zuckerman began meeting with a contractor this week to draw up estimates.

This plan leaves the tower building otherwise vacant. Zuckerman recommended that the Town ask its residents for suggestions on how to use it. “It is my idea to do a study that brings community input and asks, ‘what do you want us to do with this?’” he said.

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