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Construction works to increase accessibility

Submitted by Jennifer Ellis on April 26, 2011 – 1:37 pmNo Comment

By Cameron Moix, Contributing Writer

Growing concern for the disabled is hurrying the University of Arkansas at Little Rock to make accommodations that will increase the mobility of students affected by the campus’s extensive construction, according to David Millay, associate director of Facilities Management.

UALR is planning to improve an area of campus that has been affected by construction and renovation. In early February, the administration decided to extend the Donaghey Student Center’s closing time from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. on Monday through Thursday. This accommodation, however, does little for disabled students who must now park on the other side of the building. So with growing concern of mobility for these students, administration has announced a few things to help the mobility of special needs students.

“One thing that we are doing,” explains David Millay, “we are building a ramp so that disabled folks can use the sidewalk next to parking lot one.” This has been an area of increased concern since the frequented pathway was closed in January for the construction. Millay says that a fair amount of excavation must be done to work on buried power and water lines before the pathway can be fit for use.  He estimates that the pathway, as well as the Northeast entrance to the DSC, will be reopened in about three months.

Construction is also affecting students who travel through the gate on the west side of campus, near the intersection of University Avenue and 32nd Street. The area just inside this entrance has been mostly fenced off, which “had to be done for both safety and legal reasons,” said Millay. But a change is also in the works for this construction site, which will become the Center for Integrative Bio Nanotechnology. “They are in the process of setting up another crane, like the one at the residential site,” Millay announced, and “I think that will give people a better idea of why we need to keep them safe from those areas.”

With students and faculty feeling the growing pains and trying to work with the accommodations as they are presented, school entities are attempting to keep everyone satisfied. Because UALR is a non-traditional school, there is a good percentage of the student body with disabilities. “I think the biggest problem is for blind students,” said Sharon Downs, director of the Disability Resource Center, “they have to learn very specific routes to get from place to place, and when a route is disrupted, they have to learn an entirely new one, which can be very frustrating.” Orientation and Mobility Training helps blind students learn to navigate the campus, but Downs said “it isn’t used as much as it should be.”

The university tries to keep the wellbeing of is student body in mind when planning new construction projects. “When we were laying out the plans for the One-Stop Student Center,” explained Millay,  “we sat down with a couple of handicapped students to discuss their concerns and how to deal with them.” He explained that they can’t always accommodate for the disabled community as much as they would like, but that they do what they can. “The university is very considerate about this,” Millay said “we are closely connected with Sharon Downs and the Disability Resource Center, and always try to involve them in the process.”

Although students and faculty voice concern and complain about the state of things on campus, Downs has received very few formal complaints through the Disability Resources Center. This may be because she uses an email service to notify students associated with her department of upcoming disturbances on campus. “Together with the emails that Judy Williams sends all UALR students … I think everyone stays well informed about disruptions from construction on campus,” Downs said.

The university is seeing the “most aggressive construction project in the school’s history,” according to Director of Communications, Judy Williams. There are currently seven major construction sites on campus, including a Center for Integrative Bio Nanotechnology, Engineering and Information building, a new Student Services One-Stop Center, and new student housing.

The construction and renovation efforts are scheduled for completion in 2012, but until then students and faculty will continue to experience growing pains.

The major construction and renovation on the UALR campus began in 2005 with the “campus master plan.” The campus master plan was developed as a 10-year initiative to improve the campus’s infrastructure and functionality. The plan also includes expansion of the campus and increased student housing to accommodate the rising student population.

The campus master plan includes plans to revitalize the areas surrounding Coleman Creek, complete with a series of walking and biking trails that stretch the entire campus. This is officially known as the Coleman Creek Greenway plan and is part of an effort to link the campus with surrounding communities.

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