Renovations to the track at Tamaqua Area Sports Stadium has had several handicapped fans questioning the accessibility for the disabled at the facility, particularly from the home side bleachers.
Jamie E. Folweiler, Tamaqua, addressed the Tamaqua Area School District's board of education Tuesday evening during its committee meetings regarding the matter.
Folweiler, who is wheelchair-bound from spinal bifida, has been an advocate for handicapped rights in the Tamaqua area, focusing attention on accessibility issues for the Tamaqua post office and downtown festivals, such as last Sunday's Heritage Festival.
The school district completed a $600,000 renovation of the stadium track over the summer, converting it from a six-lane cinder surface to an all-weather, eight-lane polyurethane facility. In doing so, the track was widened to make room for the two extra lanes, resulting in less room between the fence and the bleachers on both sides.
Folweiler said he has attended three of Tamaqua's three home varsity football games since the renovations. He noted that, in the past, handicapped individuals were allowed to sit behind the fence on the walkway in front of the home stands. Now, there is less room on the home side walkway, and the fence is higher as well, reducing visibility for the wheelchair bound.
However, Folweiler said he wasn't even allowed to sit on the walkway, as a custodian chased him away from the spot, politely telling him he couldn't sit there. When Folweiler was asked where he could sit, he related that he was told that the custodian didn't know but Folweiler should take up the matter with the school board.
The handicapped accessibility of the home stands has been the subject of letter to the editor published in THE TIMES NEWS.
Board President Larry A. Wittig noted that the stadium is handicapped accessible, although that accessibility is on the visiting side bleachers.
Folweiler said that, as a Tamaqua fan, he would feel awkward sitting in the visiting bleachers cheering for the Blue Raiders in front of fans from opposing schools.
According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), particularly Titles 2 and 3, reasonable public access for handicapped individuals must be accomodated, especially with institutions funded with state and federal dollars, such as school districts, Folweiler noted.
Since the renovations required considerable advance planning, Folweiler asked the board where "the ball was dropped" in improving the stadium's handicapped accessibility.
Both Wittig and Superintendent Carol Makuta explained that only the track was renovated, not the complete stadium, and that there are future plans by the district to further refurbish the facility, depending on when funding is budgeted. Wittig mentioned the bleachers, ticket booths, sound system and handicapped accessibility as areas of potential future improvement.
"The ball was not dropped. We intend to address the rest of the stadium," said Wittig. "The track is just the first phase, but we don't have budgeted money to do the rest right now. We were fortunate to have benevolent donors, or the track would not have been done, either."
Makuta explained the district has tried to work with handicapped individuals. During Hall of Fame Night, handicapped parking was allowed inside the stadium gate. She said that while there was room for 24 vehicles that night, another 76 were turned away. "We are looking at patterns of who is coming and what we do need," she stated.
Tamaqua has one more home football game, with Marian Catholic on Nov. 6, and Folweiler asked the board what accomodations could be done in the interim.
Auxiliary Committee Chairman Dr. Thomas Rottet suggested having a handicapped area inside the fence in one of the end zones, Wittig said there is a liability issue. Wittig mentioned the possibility of a raised mound or ramp near the band concession stand at the west end of the stadium as an option.
Facilities Manager Arthur Oakes, Jr. recommended using the starting chute of the track, which is on the east end of the stadium. "They would be off the field there, but they can still see the game," Oakes explained.
Folweiler suggested adding chairs in that area so that anyone accompanying a wheelchair bound or walker-using patron could sit with them. Assistant Superintendent Raymond J. Kinder added that the chairs would be inside the fence and away from the visiting team entrance.
Oakes added that the interim handicapped section would be indicated with temporary signs and a custodian would also oversee the area.
"That sounds like a reasonable solution in the interim," said Folweiler.