BELLEVILLE, NJ — For decades, the Belleville Public Schools had to regretfully mark “no” on the state Comprehensive Equity Plan where it asks if all school buildings comply with the federal American with Disabilities Act. That officially changed Aug. 2 as Superintendent of Schools Richard Tomko, Board of Education President Christine Lamparello, business administrator and board secretary Matthew Paladino, and many other school and local government officials gathered for a ribbon-cutting ceremony at School 4.
The installation of the elevator at the Silver Lake section school that’s home to approximately 500 students from pre-K through sixth grade marked the completion of a districtwide accessibility plan that spanned about three years.
As part of the ceremony, Tomko approached a poster-sized printout of the district’s previous Comprehensive Equity Plan, crossed out “no,” wrote “yes” and signed it.
“In the 22 years I’ve been an administrator, this is probably the most important project I’ve been involved with,” Tomko said. “Today, I’m happy to put a big ‘yes’ here, sign it and date it. We are definitely compliant now and I could not be prouder.”
The taxpayers of Belleville voted for a $48.5 million referendum in 2017 to bring the district’s 10 schools into full compliance with federal ADA regulations.
Since then, there have been dozens of ramps built and lighting upgrades, and eight of the schools had elevators installed. The front of the high school has been transformed by ramps, the flattening of some walkways and other features to ensure easy access.
Extensive upgrades took place in School 4, where Principal Dora Cavallo hosted the Aug. 2 ribbon-cutting ceremony. A new ADA-compliant playground was built to go along with a new elevator and a new chairlift. The biggest part of the work was the installation of a new roof that had fallen into disrepair. The leaky roof had forced the school to shutter the third floor more than 30 years ago.
With the new roof, the school was able to equip three classrooms with new desks, purchase video screens, install new lighting and do much more for the sixth-graders who will be assigned to the third floor this fall.
Besides making the schools more accessible, the work has made them more inclusive, said Lamparello.
“I have a son in a wheelchair, and when we came here in 2002, he couldn’t go into any of the buildings without someone picking him up and carrying him inside,” she said. “I’ll tell you, that wasn’t fun. So, today, this is the ultimate thing for me. I am so proud that we are ADA-compliant and kids like my son can go anywhere they want to.”
The event was attended by Essex County Superintendent of Schools Joseph Zarra, Board Vice President Gabrielle Bennett-Meany, and board members Nelson Barerra, Ralph Tunis, Luis Muniz, Erika Jacho and Frank Velez.
Mayor Michael Melham, and Township Council members Marie Strumolo Burke and Steve Rovell also attended, as did several district administrators and members of the police and fire departments.
Photos Courtesy of Belleville School District