Will Norwich some day become handicap accessible?

For students who are injured or handicapped, the Norwich campus presents a lot of obstacles, such as these stairs leading up to Webb Hall.

For students who are injured or handicapped, the Norwich campus presents a lot of obstacles, such as these stairs leading up to Webb Hall.

The hills of the Norwich University campus, spanning from the centennial stairs of Jackman Hall to the stairs of the Sullivan museum, have students hiking across campus to get to classes every day.

Now imagine what happens when you break a leg or twist an ankle. When a student is hurt the trek becomes arduous and tiring – in fact many students would rather stay in bed then climb up and down steps on crutches.

The handicap amenities at Norwich have long been debated. Many of the buildings on campus were built as early as the 1800s, and are grandfathered to a lower standard of building codes, which would not meet today’s stringent requirements.

Zac Milesky, a 22-year old senior communications major from Brewster, Mass., hurt his ankle last semester. He noted that his journey to class in the communications building from his dorm in Hawkins was a painful task on crutches.

Milesky also said that after a while he was able to get used to the crutches, but using them was physically exhausting. “It is not really the school’s fault, but you walk uphill both ways to and from class, so it’s just terrible trying to get around on crutches and when winter hits, it gets wicked icy.”

Once a student has hiked up the hills and stairs outside, their next feat is the stairs inside the buildings. Dewey Hall, most often called Mount Dewey, is a structure that could leave anyone out of breath. This is one of the three buildings that will be renovated in the 2019 Bicentennial Plan. “With the Webb, Dewey, Ainsworth project [handicap amenities] is addressed as one entity,” said Dave Magida, who oversees facilities at Norwich.

Magida explained that over the past years there have been renovations on older buildings to make them handicap accessible. Those renovations will continue as the years go on. “Also, we will be addressing the accessibility outdoors, getting from the U-building and the Wise Campus Center. That’s all going to be graded and have some ramps as needed.”

The reason for holding off on changing all the handicap amenities in all the older buildings is not only the “monetary costs, and design costs,” Magida said, but also the difference in our campus terrain. “It does change how the state sees how we are handicap compliant, especially on the dorms on the Upper Parade Ground.” None of those dorms have elevators.

“The campus being built on a hill there’s not much you can do about it, but there are elevators which is kind of nice in some buildings, but as far as dorms go” Milesky said. As of this year there are 10 passenger elevators throughout the academic buildings and civilian dorms.

The oldest elevators can be found in Dewey Hall and Crawford Dormitory. “I don’t feel like I am in any danger in the elevators. They may creak and make noises, but they are mechanically sound. I would expect the elevators are under strict regulation and inspections,” said Brendan Demers, 21, a senior mechanical engineering student from Pembroke, N.H., when asked about how safe he felt on the older elevators.

According to the Humans Rights Commission of the state of Vermont, any building constructed before 1991 still in good condition, meaning no major renovation is needed to maintain it, “the building does not have to be made [handicap] accessible if doing so is “not readily achievable.” That is, “the required modification would impose an undue financial burden on the business.”

“So there are quite a few challenges to be compliant with the Americans with Disability Act and the regulations, we are in compliance,” Magida said about the projects started on this campus. “We have to and we want to meet all codes whether its life safety, electrical, access, and handicap access, we must and we want to meet all codes, and we do. As we work our way around campus and renovate existing buildings we make them accessible.”

The problems of handicap accessibility go beyond those who live on campus, but also visitors. It’s not just the students or the faculty and staff here who might be permanently or temporarily disabled. When events such as football games and commencement come around, the need for handicap parking and easy walking access is desired. “What we do in times when we have a lot of guests is we have golf carts,” Magida said.

Handicap parking can be found throughout campus “that gets them to various elevations around campus,” Magida noted. “I can remember an English teacher who would park next to Webb hall, just so she could be close to the classroom,” said Kale McAlister, a 2012 graduate of Norwich University, who laughed as he explained wanting to drive his car close to buildings so he didn’t have to walk.

McAlister explained that when graduation came around it was nice for his family to have the golf carts around, having worried that the walking around campus might be too much for his grandmother. “She enjoyed the campus more than if she would have walked.”

With the use of golf carts, there are paths that run around the campus that do not have stairs. “Personally I have never been handicapped on campus, however I noticed that there is a lot of staircases but there are pathways that could be taken so that a staircase wouldn’t need to be taken on this campus,” Demers said. Knowing it is a hilly campus, and people could have trouble with just the hills, he explained that it would be smart for incoming students to tour the campus before admitting to Norwich if that is a concern.

“There are a lot of people who like to be in shape and don’t feel this campus is hard to walk around,” McAllister said. “I would just recommend good shoes and always be careful.” According to Demers, if someone was permanently disabled he believed they would “probably have a power wheelchair already” to help them get around this campus easily.

As for the injured athletes around campus who do not have the leisure of using power wheelchairs or golf carts, “you can always get in better shape when using crutches,” McAllister said.

According to Magida, the renovations made to dorms will include handicap accessibility. South Hall is one example of a recent building made handicap accessible with the elevator and handicap accessible bathrooms. West Hall will have the same amenities.

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