Accessibility-minded construction improving staff, student safety

Saniya Koppikar, Staff Writer

Town Center Drive, lined by the fences of the adjacent neighborhood and The Children’s Courtyard of Coppell, is one of the most popular roads used by CHS students. 

Used by hundreds traveling to popular Denton Tap Road establishments such as TeaLatte Bar and Sonic, the road is also populated daily by buses pulling in and out of CHS and students from adjacent neighborhoods. 

Yet, until March, the road lacked a clear pedestrian crossing. 

During spring break, CHS resolved safety concerns regarding foot traffic along Town Center Drive with the construction of a sidewalk bridging the campus to the road. 

The issue was first raised in an October report by Coppell Chief Operations Officer Dennis Womack, which questioned  the safety of access to the north and south areas of campus from public roadways. As school began for the fall semester, the report was corroborated by those who felt the problem on a daily basis. 

“Several of our district heads began receiving requests about crossing Town Center Drive across Cowboy Drive and having to walk up that hill,” Womack said. “Most of the requests were from students, not parents, believe it or not. There was a patch of dirt created there in the grass because of just how much foot traffic had been going over it.”

The requests prompted the initial discussion: was there something that could be done to make it easier for students to get up that hill? 

From there, the department realized that the CHS campus was inaccessible from either public street that would allow a person to enter the campus without having to walk in the road or area where vehicles would be driving. 

With CHS surrounded by residential areas, many students walk to school. Another portion of commuters is made up of new and often inexperienced drivers, making safe pedestrian traffic a concern. 

After Womack’s report, the next step was securing a contractor to construct the sidewalk. The construction began March 14 and finished five days later.

Students returned from their break with their request fulfilled, but it did not stop there. According to CHS Principal Laura Springer, while the sidewalk construction plans began in October, talks about construction to increase the general accessibility of the school were ongoing for almost two years. 

“We used to have something almost like a mudslide area back at the southeast end of the school,” Springer said. “So many of our kids live right across the street, so they’ll go out those doors, but when it rained, if it snowed, if it did anything and you walked out those back doors, we’d see so many kids slip and almost fall into traffic. Without a ramp or steps back there, you’re not going to get a kid with a wheelchair or crutches down safely.”

Regarding accessibility, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) states that “campus classrooms, facilities and housing must be fully accessible…any programs and activities in those buildings must in some way be made accessible to people with disabilities.”

CHS special education department chair Juli Springer describes several parts of the school as beneficial: the ramps and railings, the automatic doors, the two elevators and the unloading zone near the flag poles which eases the loading and unloading of wheelchairs on buses. 

“There are always opportunities for improvement,” Juli Springer said. “We have changes in laws that often require us to look at our building and property and make changes. I feel that the district is working diligently trying to make our building as accessible as possible.”

In addition to sidewalk construction, spring break at CHS included handrail renovations. In the back hallway of CHS near the Lecture Hall, handrails were problematic for custodial staff utilizing large bins for trash collection. 

“It’s one of the things that was asked for by the administration at the high school,” Womack said. “They didn’t want the handrails to impede the capability for those bins to roll down the hallway.”

After construction, the handrails lining the walls have been widened enough to not interfere with the ability to access the lecture hall doors while being compliant with the space.

As for future construction, Womack thinks there are improvements that can be made at CHS. 

“Right now when you come in off Town Center Drive, there’s not a clear walking path for you to go towards the athletic area or the back side of the campus,” Womack said. “There’s not a sidewalk on either side of the drive to go around to the back, and then even when you get to the back there aren’t any sidewalks that connect the doors out of the building. As you circulate around the campus, you notice things. I’d like to see us go ahead and complete those soon.”

Follow Saniya Koppikar (@SaniyaKoppikar) and @CHSCampusNews on Twitter.