AHEAD OF THE PACK

BROWNSTOWN

For the second time, Brownstown officials have received praise for their efforts to become compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Midwestern Engineers Inc. of Loogootee recently told Ben Lewis, the town’s ADA coordinator and a former town council member, that Brownstown is ahead of more than half the state in terms of where it stands on compliance.

That includes having a five-member committee in place since the fall of 2014, developing a grievance policy and performing an inventory of intersections and facilities within town limits.

“We’re in the right direction,” Lewis said. “Now, it’s just time to develop the plan and start paying for it, start doing the work, just chipping away at the ice until it’s done 20 years from now.”

In March, Julie Berry, client administrator with Midwestern Engineers, attended a town council meeting and said the town was taking a step further than some other Indiana communities and was doing what it could on its own. She praised the thoroughness of the work.

At the council’s most recent meeting, Lewis pointed to the two binders the town received from Midwestern Engineers containing their inventory of every sidewalk in town to determine if they are handicap-accessible.

The information included photographs and engineering diagrams of every street corner and right-of-way and how to make them compliant with ADA laws.

“So that if you do any sidewalk projects, it will make the intersections conforming to the newest standards,” Lewis said.

The information also outlines public facilities that need attention, such as parks, the building that houses town hall and the police and fire departments.

Lewis said it will take a joint effort between the ADA committee and town council to itemize the projects that need the most attention.

“An amount can be budgeted annually to be incorporated as part of your 20-year plan of development to bring the town into compliance,” he said. “Then it gets us on the right track, so every year we’re doing a project.”

Lewis said the biggest priority would be the town hall complex.

“This is your gateway to town operations, and coming right through the door, you have a noncompliance,” Lewis said, as the entryway to town hall is not handicap-accessible.

He added there are small things the town could fix, such as hiring someone to make light switches and fire extinguishers accessible and installing lower tabletops.

“That kind of stuff you can do pretty affordably and do it quickly,” he said. “Any time you start breaking ground or pouring concrete, that’s always where it gets more expensive.”

Town council President John Nolting, who also is on the ADA committee, asked Clerk-Treasurer Dave Willey about putting ADA projects into the annual budget. Willey said the money would come out of the cumulative capital development fund, cumulative capital improvement fund or general fund.

“We need to see a plan of what the priorities are,” Willey said.

Town council members earlier discussed budgeting around $2,500 per year toward making buildings, sidewalks and intersections ADA compliant. They also said they hoped to receive financial assistance from the federal government if it’s available.

“I think if we just get started on a few of these things, they’ll see that we’re attempting to do something anyway,” Nolting said.

Lewis said he learned that most Indiana towns and municipalities don’t have a plan, so Brownstown is ahead of the game.

“The bottom line is we have a huge leg up on a lot of folks in the state,” he said. “There’s a ton of work to be done. It’s just where do you want to start and how much can the town afford to put into it every year?”

He also noted that the town might not want to throw too much money into certain projects because ADA laws could change.

“In 20 years, it’s likely the ADA standards will change, and things that will be done will no longer be compliant to the law,” he said. “That’s nearly impossible to accommodate for, I think. That has been ebbing and flowing for 10, 20, 30 years, and it has changed several times. The sidewalk standards, they change all the time.”

Author photo
Zach Spicer is a reporter for The (Seymour) Tribune. He can be reached at zspicer@tribtown.com or 812-523-7080.