Federal and state regulations are forcing Alexandria taxpayers to install a $30,000 elevator for handicapped students at George Mason Elementery School, even though the school has no handicapped students.
Instead, the elevator's chief function this year will probably be to transport heavy boxes from the school's first floor to the second.
A combination of federal and state regulations require that the elevator be installed for the physically handicapped because the school, located at 2601 Cameron Mills Rd., is undergoing a major renovation this summer.
"I'm not arguing with the policy of requiring facilities for tha handicapped)," said Alexandria School Board Chairman Carlyle C. Ring Jr. "My criticism is of the inflexibility of the requirement."
Ring said that at George Mason, the school system could have met the needs of the handicapped "100 per cent" without the expense of a new elevator. But he said that because of federal and state regulations "we couldn't satisfy it with program alternatives."
Ring said that the city's school board presented plans for the George Mason renovation to the state Board or Education that called for a few new classrooms on the second floor.No handicapped students would ever be in classes that met on the second floor, he said. But the plans were rejected by the state.
Ring said than since the state insisted that the elevator must be built anyway, the renovation plans were changed. Now, the George Mason second floor will contain a new library, an art room, and conference rooms.
Martha Phillips, an assistant supervisor for school buildings with the Virginia Education Department, said the regulations regarding handicapped students apply even if there are no handicapped students at a school. While old U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare regulations required public buildings to be accessible to tht handicapped, newer regulations specify that all programs must be accessible, Phillips said. Such facilities and programs must be available to all persons, which means that a physically handicapped parent must be able to attend meetings at schools, she added.
"We've been very lenient about the regulations until recently. Now, we've being more particular. We're looking at schools a little harder," Phillips said. "We're finding that some school systems go ahead and do it (install special aids for the handcapped) and others don't want to spend the money."
According to an Alexandria school spokesman, no elementary students in the city were confined to wheelchairs last year, although there were some in secondary schools. T.C. Williams High school, the city's school for juniors and seniors, and the Secondary Schools Occupational Center are the only Alexandria schools with elevators for the handicapped the spokesman said.
Ring noted that the federal regulations that necessitated the building of an elevator at George Mason were the same ones which ultimately resulted in elevators and ramps being constructed for the handicapped in the Metro subway system. He said he expects someday that the state government will mandate that all school buildings have elevators and ramps, not just newly constructed or renovated facilities as is the case now.
Meanwhile, George Mason principal Walter Krug said of his school's elevator, "If it's there, we'll use it. We haven't a need for it, but we'll use it to take heavy boxes upstairs, for freight."
George Mason has about 500 students. The building is undergoing a $320,000 renovation, which should be completed sometime late this fall, according to a school official. An old multipurpose room is being converted to the art and conference rooms, the library is being extended and a new music room on the first floor is being added.