DAYTON — Four and a half years ago, staff at the Dayton Memorial Library moved the children’s section to the basement of the building on South Third Street for more space, but concerns about access have surfaced.
The location, which not only houses library materials for children but also serves as a space for youth activities, is not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Community members have been asking library officials to address the issue, saying that children or parents with disabilities are being excluded from the public space and community events.
Now the Columbia County Rural Library District board of trustees will have a public meeting to discuss the library’s ADA-compliance plans, which they say are in the works, at 7 p.m. Monday in the Delany room of the library, 111 S. 3rd St.
Lorna Barth, a former short-term employee of the Dayton library, said she has been sending letters about this issue — receiving no response — to the Columbia County commissioners, the library board of trustees, Americans with Disabilities and Washington Library Association.
In her letter she wrote: “I am formally, once again, submitting a complaint concerning the inactions (or refusal to take action) by the library Director Dusty Waltner and the board of trustees, in regard to federal and state laws requiring the Dayton Memorial Library be in compliance with the American’s with Disabilities Act.”
She wrote that the library is not complying with ADA requirement, quoting that state and local governments are “required to make reasonable modifications to policies, practices, and procedures where necessary to avoid discrimination, unless they can demonstrate that doing so would fundamentally alter the nature of the service, program, or activity being provided.”
Temporary use of the Delany room, a large meeting space connected to the library building, as the children’s library until they can accommodate all children was recommended by Barth in the letter.
“This was refused,” she wrote.
Tanya Patton, chairwoman of the board of trustees, said, “The goal of the move was to create more space and allow the kids to have a place of their own.”
The board wanted to use the large space in the basement for more children’s books, hosting events, and allowing the kids to play, be loud and talk without getting yelled at by adults.
Patton said the library makes a point to accommodate the needs of any child with disabilities, like grabbing books for them that they find on the upstairs website or recommending books to them.
The upstairs portion of the library does have two accessible entrances for wheelchairs, wheelchair-accessible bathrooms, and a door push button. Anyone with a disability can still use the upstairs portion of the library, even kids.
Tabitha Elkins Haney, the director of a daycare center in Walla Walla, has also been writing letters and attending meetings.
“Just knowing that there are potentially children who cannot access this public space anymore (children’s section) is unacceptable. I know one parent who cannot attend things in the basement of the library, to see that she was not taken into consideration was unacceptable,” Haney said.
She does not think that moving the children’s library to the basement was worth it.
“I think we have just taught them (the kids without disabilities) that their needs are more important than someone else’s.”
Patton said accessibility is very expensive. The board has been saving for this for at least four and a half years.
Waltner said that when she started her job as library director at about the time the children’s library was moved, the budget for capital expenditures on large projects was at $194,000, and now it is at $400,000.
The board has been saving that money for a lift, elevator, or other accommodation for people with disabilities to access the basement, she said. They have also been researching options for accommodation.
Haney said she thought the board was spending money on unnecessary things.
“I don’t think money should have been spent on new door locks, and now they want a keyless entry pad set up by a code. Until this issue is fixed, every penny of the library’s money should be going towards accessibility.”
Waltner said ADA compliance is listed as the board’s top priority for 2020.
The library director said another consideration is that “with a project like this, the library has to close down for six months to a year.”
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 10.3% of people in Columbia County under 65 years old, or 418 people, have a disability.