By Dave Russell
The installation of two signs is all that stands in the way of the Smoky Mountain High School baseball field coming into full Americans with Disabilities Act compliance.
“The only thing that is left, as far as the facility itself, is there will be a sign off of 107 to direct folks who need accessible parking, and there will be a sign at the top of the hill explaining the gallery seating and where the accessible restrooms are,” Assistant Superintendent Jake Buchanan said.
The signs have been ordered but not yet received.
“Once those are installed, then the project will be 100 percent complete,” Buchanan said. “We will be submitting to the Office for Civil Rights all of the appropriate paperwork, pictures and all that within the next 60 days. They have the right to come out and do a visual inspection, or they could go by our reports and pictures, and we’re hoping that at that point they will close the case. We have fulfilled all of the requests they made.”
The effort started with a 2018 order from the U.S. Office for Civil Rights in connection with disabled accessibility at the field.
The school system was served with a complaint from a community member.
The Jackson County schools superintendent at the time, Kim Elliott, in October 2018 signed a resolution agreement, directing the school to provide designated accessible seating and other amenities mandated by the ADA.
The agreement mandated accessible facilities at a viewing area atop the hill behind home plate and at field level. The work adjacent to the driveway into the school above the field was completed in spring 2019.
The parking lot level improvements feature a concrete area that allows folks to sit at the top, Buchanan said.
“During baseball season, there will be several parking spots within a short distance of that seating area that are handicap-only parking, and we also placed ADA-compliant portable toilets there,” he said.
A painted striped path leads from the parking area to the viewing area.
The lower part, at field level, was a much larger project.
That part of the project consisted of two unisex restrooms at field level, which connect to the structure that currently houses two restrooms and the press box.
“There is now a paved drive off N.C. 107, right at the batting cage, that comes to an ADA-compliant parking lot between the batting cage and the ball field,” Buchanan said.
ADA compliant bleachers have been installed.
“There is now an ADA-compliant paved path up to each of the dugouts,” Buchanan said. “The dugouts already had a concrete floor, so they’re a good surface.”
Managers, photographers, reporters and others might need access to the dugout to do their jobs, he said.
Storm water management was upgraded to prevent the runoff from the asphalt deluging the field itself, he said.
That part of the project was completed in the fall.
The school system received three bids, ranging from Western Builders of Sylva at $463,000 to Hickory Construction Co. at $587,000.
The Jackson County Board of Commissioners and Board of Education approved the Western Builders bid.
Costs inflated due to the condition of the soil in the area of the construction.
“The biggest challenge was that we had to do some tests to determine the density and the stability of the ground,” Buchanan said.
Tests indicated considerably more soil would have to be moved than architects previously thought.
More stone was needed, and asphalt thick enough to support the weight of a fire truck had to be installed, he said.
The first game at SMHS in the COVID-19 pandemic-delayed season is set for April 27, when Franklin comes to town.