By Susan Gonsalves, Contributing Writer
SOUTHBOROUGH – The Southborough Board of Selectmen reviewed a draft document that identified areas of non-compliance with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) at town buildings, sites and recreational areas July 13.
The 202-page “Self-Evaluation and Transition Plan” was prepared by the Central MA Regional Planning Commission, Center for Living and Working, Inc. in Worcester and consultant James M. Mazik of Holyoke.
Mazik said that any construction solutions need to be designed by a qualified engineering and architectural professional. He outlined for the board how the projects could be broken down in terms, with immediate projects taking place this year and next year. Near-term projects would be completed between 2023 and 2026 while long-term ones would be completed between 2027 and 2030.
He said the town has to demonstrate a “good faith effort” that it is addressing the areas of non-compliance and “showing movement” on the plan.
In addition, Mazik said that not all solutions are “cost-based,” involving making infrastructure changes. For example, a program being offered on the second floor of a building could be moved to the first level so that people with disabilities would have access.
It is crucial to provide “reasonable accommodation and an honest effort,” he said.
The consultant spoke of issues including sidewalk and curb ramp obstruction, deteriorated walkways or walkways with overgrowth causing a barrier, shortcomings in bathrooms and facilities like stall doors that don’t close and counters that are too high, lack of adequate signage and parking widths, protruding objects that pose a danger and the need to provide accessible routes to buildings and playgrounds with a firm surface that is stable and slip-resistant.
Mazik emphasized that the town could start out by getting some of the easier, less expensive fixes out of the way.
Other areas in the report highlighted how to, among other things, write job descriptions that are not discriminatory, to make provisions for emergency preparedness and notification and ensure that all polling places are accessible and provide privacy.
“It’s a big deal and thank all of you folks for putting it on our radar,” said Selectman Martin Healey. He noted that he is not deterred that a price tag may be in the range of $750,000.
Over the years, he said, the town has spent that amount of money “on things that aren’t as valuable as this.”
Healey said that he is in favor of working aggressively on projects and accelerating the process as much as possible.
Town Administrator Mark Purple, who is Southborough’s ADA coordinator, said the town could look at Massachusetts Office on Disability (MOD), Complete Streets, Community Preservation and other grants to help with funding.
Board of Selectmen Chair Lisa Braccio said that they would work closely with the town’s ADA Committee to prioritize the needed work. While school improvements are being done, she said, the boards could get started between now and when the plan is finalized.
Healey noted the selectmen could also possibly prepare a warrant article asking for funding at Annual Town Meeting in 2022.
Connor Robichaud, regional projects coordinator for CMRPC, and Michael Kennedy, a representative of Center for Living and Working, were in attendance for the presentation.
Kennedy tried several times to speak about the report and give a presentation. But audio issues prevented selectmen from hearing him. He then deferred to Mazik.