Handicapped accessibility at issue at Monterey Stadium
Kyle Geissler talks with Janesville Gazette reporter Frank Schultz about a complaint about handicapped-accessibility at Monterey Stadium.
JANESVILLE Monterey Stadium’s concrete grandstand has drawn fans of Janesville high school sports for more than 70 years. But it has never been accessible to people with physical disabilities.
That may soon change.
The school board is scheduled to discuss the idea at meetings Tuesday night.
Local attorney Harry O’Leary Sr. apparently got the ball rolling last fall when he sent a formal complaint to the state, saying the lack of handicapped access violates people’s legal rights.
O’Leary complained against the city, which owns the stadium, and the school district, which leases the stadium from the city.
City and school district attorneys argued against the complaint. The state’s Equal Rights Division agreed last week that the city and district are not required to make the seating handicapped-accessible.
Among the lawyers’ arguments:
-- The handicapped may sit on the metal bleachers on the other side of the field, where there are no steps to keep them from sitting on the first row of seats.
-- The handicapped are allowed onto the track surrounding the field to view football games.
-- The handicapped also may sit at the base of the concrete grandstand, although viewing is limited because of a low fence and by anyone who walks by.
Sitting on the track can make people with handicaps feel uneasy, Craig High School senior Nathan Scafe wrote to his principal on Feb. 8.
Scafe has researched the issue and written a proposal for a ramp. He wrote about attending a football game in which he sat in his wheelchair on the track:
“I felt like I didn’t belong because I could not sit in the stands like everyone else.”
Fans also have been unable to use the stands, O’Leary’s complaint notes:
-- Charles “Chuck” Roherty could not get into the stands to watch his grandson quarterback the Craig football team. Roherty died Feb. 23.
-- O’Leary’s wife, Barbara, has rheumatoid arthritis. She watched her grandchildren compete on the field from a car parked outside or a lawn chair at one end of the stadium, where the view was obstructed.
-- “The father of Parker High School Coach Joe Dye, the victim of a stroke, struggles valiantly to enter the stands to watch his son’s team perform. He is at risk of a fall each and every time.”
Harry O’Leary Jr. said his father probably filed the complaint out of frustration, “although he knew in the legal world, you’re fighting an uphill battle.”
The law may not favor the disabled, but moral and social arguments do, O’Leary Jr. said. He noted that the district’s own goals include promoting diversity and parental involvement.
O’Leary said it’s “absurd” to suggest that allowing people to use the metal bleachers on the visitors’ side of the field or to sit on the track make the facility accessible.
People should not have to put themselves into the limelight out on the track just to see a game, and for people who have trouble walking it’s a long hike from the entrance to the far side of the field, he added.
O’Leary Jr. said it’s also wrong to suggest that handicapped students sit in the visitors section.
O’Leary Jr. said he hopes the district will spend the money. He noted that some school board members have expressed support.
Board member Todd Bailey is impatient and wonders why the district is moving so slowly.
Bailey suggests that in-kind donations would be easy to get in a city that contains construction companies as well as ones that that produce concrete.
“It doesn’t have to be anything fancy,” Bailey said. “… Just get it done.”
Here are the legal arguments surrounding the handicapped-access issue for Monterey Stadium:
Harry O’Leary Sr. of Janesville made these arguments in an Oct. 7, 2007, letter to state Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen:
-- “The eight steps leading into the stadium are high steps, with the first one being in excess of 12 inches,” making the stands inaccessible or dangerous to people with physical disabilities.
-- “A few years ago, the stadium, field, track, locker rooms and press box were remodeled with funds contributed by the public at large. I am at a loss why the handicapped access problem was not resolved during the renovation.”
-- A ramp could “easily remedy the situation.”
The school district
Janesville School District legal counsel David Moore argued in a Dec. 12 letter to the state Equal Rights Division that O’Leary’s complaint be dismissed because:
-- “The athletic field is visible and accessible to all persons at ground level at points around the field.”
-- Those unable to use the grandstand seats are permitted to go onto the track surrounding the football field, or they may sit in the area directly in front of the grandstand.
-- The metal bleachers on the opposite side of the field from the concrete grandstand are accessible to the physically disabled.
-- The grandstand was constructed in the 1930s, before the Wisconsin Statute 106.52, which covers this topic, was enacted.
-- The statute does not require any affirmative action to alter a physical structure to make it handicapped-accessible.
-- The school district didn’t build the grandstand “and has therefore committed no act constituting denial of the full and equal enjoyment of a public place of accommodation.”
-- The district did not pay for the remodeling of the inside of the structure. Private fund raising paid for it. “Further, no reconstruction of the stadium access seating area has been done.”
-- The city, not the district, owns the facility. The district leases it from the city. The terms of the lease state that the city retains “responsibility for the maintenance and improvement(s) to the structural portion of the Monterey Stadium building …”
The city of Janesville hired StaffordRosenbaum LLP to respond to the complaint. Attorney Meg Vergeront made these arguments in a Dec. 17 letter to the state Equal Rights Division:
-- “The city did not take any action that denied any individual with a disability access to the stadium.
-- The statute prohibits actions that actively interfere with the enjoyment of a place of public accommodation when those actions are taken because of a person’s disability. Mr. O’Leary has not alleged any facts showing that the city took any such action, and the city’s inaction is not covered by the statute.”
-- The disabled have “adequate options” for viewing stadium events.
-- “If the Legislature had intended to require public entities to expend taxpayer funds to renovate all public structures, regardless of when they were originally built, it would have clearly so stated in … the statute.”
-- The stadium as a whole, not the seating structure, is the place of public accommodation, and it is accessible to disabled people.
Craig High School senior Nathan Scafe, who uses a wheelchair, recently wrote a proposal for making Monterey Stadium’s concrete grandstand handicapped-accessible. Here are some of his arguments for making the change:
“Life with any disability seems to have a lot of those moments where you just feel different. Many of those moments are unavoidable but painful nonetheless. That’s why it is important for people with disabilities to be in the stands, just like everyone else. …
“Accessible seating is about far more than having a place to watch athletes competing. It is about being a part of the group that you so often cannot fully be a part of. Those rare moments of normalcy are like gold. In those moments, you are no longer defined by your disability. You’re just one of a few hundred fans cheering enthusiastically for your beloved team.”
IF YOU GO
The Janesville School Board is scheduled to discuss the possibility of paying an architect an estimated $10,000 to design a way to make Monterey Stadium’s concrete seating accessible to the handicapped.
The topic is on the agenda of the board’s buildings and grounds/finance committee at 6 p.m. Tuesday and the regular board meeting at 7 p.m. Both meetings are in the Educational Services Center, 527 S. Franklin St.