Sidewalk construction abundant on Hill

Beth Sewell

Students may be finding it a little harder to navigate their way around campus this semester. Along with numerous construction projects underway, sidewalks are being overhauled campus-wide.

The sidewalk repairs are part of an effort by Western to put $1 million of state grant money into action by repouring walkways, adding more signage, replacing elevators and renovating bathrooms.

The grant money was given to Western in 1995 to assist the university to become more accessible for disabled students, in accordance with the standards of the Americans With Disabilities Act passed in 1990.

Huda Melky, Equal Opportunity and ADA compliance director, said Western’s ADA committee has worked since that time to prioritize which projects would help to best improve access on campus.

The committee set a goal to have wheelchair-accessible bathrooms on at least one floor in every academic building on campus.

But Melky said the changes have been slow to come and improving accessibility on campus has become a seven-year process that is just now close to completion.

Construction Management director Ed West said all ADA compliance projects, including sidewalk construction, should be completed by year’s end.

“The Hill is challenging enough for students without special needs,” West said. “That’s why we need to make it even more accessible to our special needs students.”

West said members of the ADA committee walked through campus earlier this semester to prioritize what work needed to be done on the sidewalks.

Members found many places where sidewalks were cracked because of tree roots. There were also places where the concrete was uneven.

West said construction workers are now trying to repair old sidewalks and lay down the new pavement as quickly as possible because of the temporary strain it puts on students.

“They are tearing them up and immediately repouring them,” West said.

Although the completion of ADA projects has taken longer than anticipated, Western used the state grant money to its advantage, Melky said. The funding was originally intended only for improvements in academic buildings.

Western was able to make improvements in other buildings, repair sidewalks and install electronic doors in Grise Hall and Downing University Center.

“It’s not required by law to have an automatic door opener,” Melky said. “We put them in because it helps out our special needs students, and those doors can get heavy.”

John Osborne, vice president of Campus Services and Facilities, said the ADA committee has worked hard on assessing the strengths and weaknesses of campus.

“It’s messy right now, but when they get finished it will be more accessible,” Osborne said.

Reach Beth Sewell at [email protected]