Methuen Access

Methuen Access

Disability advocates want more respect in Methuen

By Monica Sager |
Sep 23, 2023

METHUEN — Methuen’s Commission on Disability says the city has not gone far enough in improving access to parking lots, walkways, and the city cemetery as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

“Although some issues have been addressed, there have been many that have been an issue since I joined this commission two years ago that are very simple to fix,” commission member Ashley Smallwood said. “It’s frustrating when I see other projects being done but not our projects.”

One “smaller” problem Smallwood said has not been addressed is the crosswalk in front of the senior center, at 77 Lowell St.

Smallwood said she and others on the committee have brought up the issue of handicapped parking at Methuen High School for two years. This year, the Tenney Grammar School, at 75 Pleasant St., and the Timony Grammar School, at 45 Pleasant St., both had new parking lots but the high school did not.

“It’s very frustrating as a commissioner thinking, OK that mom in a wheelchair or that dad who might use a walker still can’t walk into the front doors of the high school for their parent-teacher conference,” Smallwood said. “A student who might be learning to drive and has mobility issues has nowhere to safely park and walk in the front door of the high school.”

Previously there were parking spots for people with disabilities that were close to the front doors of Methuen High School, at 1 Ranger Road. During renovations, Smallwood pointed out, that feature was removed.

“It’s not allowed when you’re doing a renovation to remove an accessible issue,” said Smallwood.

The commission said they were not notified about the Timony or Tenney parking lots either. They agreed they would like to be notified prior to construction — of any project — so that ADA provisions can be dealt with proactively rather than retroactively.

Commission member Kevin Hatch noted that the group asked for meetings with school officials prior to the construction but to no avail.

Hatch also wants to discuss the weight of the doors at the media room in the high school, which are difficult for people with mobility problems. The doors are internal, which means they do not need to be electric, Hatch said, but students and staff “historically have had trouble accessing the resources in the media center.”

The group is hoping to meet with Superintendent Brandi Kwong.

Another issue the Commission on Disability raised in a recent meeting was the bathroom at the Elmwood Cemetery, 130 N. Lowell St.

“We made renovations at that building in the cemetery for heating and plumbing as well,” said Felix Garcia, Jr., the deputy director of the Department of Public Works. “That bathroom, from what I understand, won’t be utilized by the public. It will be just city employees using that.”

The commission pointed out that the person using the facility does not matter. If a site is being updated it must be brought up to ADA compliance. The group also said they were not notified of the work, which Garcia said started before he was on the DPW.

“You can have a private establishment that is open to the public so it has to be ADA compliant. That’s one criteria. You can also have a public building and if it’s for the public, let’s say City Hall, any space has to be ADA compliant,” Garcia said. “There are some gray areas where I’m not sure, like even though it’s a public building if it’s not for public access it doesn’t necessarily have to be ADA compliant.”

Chair Eileen Lee said that when the group was renovating Forest Lake, the commission was not able to use the full grant allocation because the bathrooms were not accessible and needed to be repaired.

“I’m not saying it’s on you,” Lee said. “It’s probably something that it’s a small little building and people were not thinking about it.”

Lee said the commission will take its concerns to Patrick Bower, the director of DPW, and Mayor Neil Perry.

“I’d like to think that moving forward, maybe we can get back on track,” Lee said, adding that Sandy Almonte, the ADA and DEI coordinator for Methuen, has previously checked in with DPW and would report to Lee.


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