Changes make St. John spaces better for everyone

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 1, 2008


Staff Reporter

LAPLACE – A few steps in front of a building or a heavy swinging door with a round knob may not be much for a person to handle, but for someone with a disability, it can be like climbing a mountain.

Officials in St. John Parish, working in accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), have taken great strides to lower this mountain, especially when it comes to places where citizens exercise their right to vote.

With the help of St. John ADA Coordinator Tom Livingston, the parish has successfully tweaked all of the parish’s polling places to bring them up to ADA code.

“None of the buildings needed extensive work, just a few things here and there to make things easier for disabled individuals,” Livingston said. “But it feels good to see it become a reality.”

The Americans with Disabilities Act, which was passed by the U.S. Congress in 1990, sets up specific guidelines on how buildings must be built to accommodate citizens needing access to government facilities. When Parish President Bill Hubbard took office in January, he set a goal of bringing all government buildings and polling places up to code by October of this year.

“Since it was a presidential year, it was the perfect time to get these modifications done so that all residents of St. John would have the opportunity to exercise their right to vote,” Hubbard said. “Tom has been instrumental in making sure we do this and do it right.”

Livingston, who has been the parish’s ADA coordinator for the past six years, explained that the project involved modifications to parking lots, signage, doors and door handles at 14 parish wide locations used as polling places. He said most of the changes were minor, but a few buildings, like the P.D. Hebert building in LaPlace required more extensive changes.

“It is no longer a polling place, but the building houses many government offices,” said Livingston. “The parish added more parking, constructed a ramp in the front, changed out a few door handles, and lightened the front door to make it easier to open.”

Livingston said the parish also did work on the Edgard Courthouse, which now has a permanent ramp in the back of the building and a wider doorframe to accommodate wheelchairs.

Minor alterations were also made to East St. John High School, the parish health unit, Pleasure Bend Fire Station, and St. Joan of Arc School.

“It has been great to see some of these initiatives finally get completed,” said Livingston. “I hope to see St. John Parish become the flagship for ADA compliance in the state. To know that people with disabilities have this access, it really makes you feel good.”

St. John Public Information Officer Buddy Boe said the entire project, which totaled out at around $17,000, was paid for by the state through grant funds from the Help America Vote Act.

In addition to the polling places, Livingston said the parish’s next step is to bring other high profile buildings up to ADA code.

“We are starting to look at buildings with lots of traffic,” said Livingston. “Our next project is the St. John Theater in Reserve.”