Lack of East Wing Accessibility

Clarion photo Samuel Sycip
Accessibility ramp (East wing Breezeway).

Students and staff are all familiar with the east wing of the school. Some are also aware of the problems surrounding the entrances to the east wing, more specifically, the second floor, and the lack of access.

Every door that lets students in from the outside is now locked. Even the main door is locked at 9 a.m., and getting let in after is reliant on the front office staff. The side doors are also locked, always, rather than just sometimes, and often students are yelled at for opening the doors for one another.

Some students run errands for teachers, and carry a load of books, or push a cart around, and have to come up with a solution. Recently, I was out in the hall, when three library assistants were delivering PSAT packets to teachers on the second floor of the east wing. They had a cart full of them, and no way to get the cart downstairs to deliver them, as the side doors were all locked, other than slowly dragging the cart perilously down the stairs.

What happens when it’s raining, and someone needs to get to the second floor, but can’t take the stairs? Well, going by what I’ve seen and heard, they’ll be stuck outside for as long as it takes for someone to notice.

I spoke to one TA, Lexi Burgoyne, a junior, about the second floor of the east wing. When asked what her problems with the east wing are, she told me that “I guess with being a library TA, accessibility. Being able to go through elevators, then having to lug carts of books across, and then having to carry them downstairs, kinda sucks.”

Even for someone not pushing a cart of books or a wheelchair, the east wing is difficult to navigate. Classrooms are hard to find, and to get to, as there is one door in, and about 300 kids trying to get in and out at the same time.

Another library TA, Jeremy Cownover, another junior, mentioned that “It’s also confusing for freshmen finding classes.” He raised several very important concerns, as the east wing is poorly marked, and easy to miss.

Students only have seven minutes between classes, and trying to get from the first floor to the second floor of the east wing can take much longer, especially for a new student. The entrance looks like a short hall down to a few classrooms, and doesn’t have adequate markings to tell students what classrooms are lurking past the throng of teenagers attempting to enter or escape.

Jeremy later went on to mention that changes should be made on accessing the east wing like, “Maybe the way it connects for the third floor to the second floor since it’s just a staircase really, besides the way you would have to go outside to get in.”

Jeremy makes several important points within his previous statement, as he brings to attention the problems with entering the east wing. Connections between the second and third floor are limited to two staircases, and doors that can’t be opened without a key. It’s a flawed design, as no matter where you enter the east wing, you’re either stuck for several minutes, or going out of your way to avoid close quarters with fellow classmates. It’s especially important to think about this last point now, as the world is still rooted squarely in the middle of a global pandemic.

I also spoke to Jeff Zerba, who uses a manual wheelchair, about what he has noticed about the east wing, “To get in the east wing, you can’t get in the east wing unless you go up the stairs and down the stairs to get into that lower floor.”

Two sets of stairs and an accessible entrance on the ground floor of the east wing are the most convenient way into that area of the building. Having an almost unavailable part of the building is unfair, and now more than ever can be detrimental to a student’s health. It’s hazardous as students can’t keep three plus feet apart, and it could cause a fire hazard with every student attempting to escape at the same time.

Additionally, I reached out to Special Projects Coordinator Jan Watt, and she mentioned that a lift had been added to the gym building, so that access between the SST room and gym could be made much easier. It’s such a simple solution, and a much more reasonable one than a whole new elevator. Compared to a remodel to the east wing, a vertical lift would be a cost effective solution to almost all of the problems that the east wing poses for students. While a vertical lift is not inexpensive, students and families would have an opportunity to challenge themselves to raise the money, but a schoolwide event or fundraiser would be a great way to make an awesome change to the school, and a great community builder, especially after the year that the student body has lived through.

Putting a vertical lift close to the entrance to the east wing would be beneficial to not only students with a mobility device, but also to students with a short term injury who might not be able to take the stairs as easily as normal. It would be a faster solution than exiting and reentering, and some mobility devices are manual rather than electrical, and those can be damaging to a person’s shoulders. In the rain, pushing up a hill can be challenging when your hands are wet, and your hands are slipping on the grab bars. This raises safety concerns, as stopping takes longer, it’s harder to catch the ramp railings to stop rolling back down, and can lead to tipping, and sliding, neither of which are good for a student’s safety.

Safety concerns, tardies, and maybe even an absent student could all be the result of a poorly designed structure. Without a real way to get to their classes, students could miss out on vital information that could stunt their learning in the future. To take a ramp, they either have to go down to the first floor, or go all the way around the building.

Cleveland wasn’t built with mobility devices in mind, but that doesn’t mean that changes can’t be made to the building. Students are being told that nothing can happen because the remodel is so close, but no one actually knows when that’s going to happen. Students and staff have an inability to access classrooms, an easily missed entrance, and no way of knowing when changes will be made to remedy the situation that lives within our school.