June 22: Letters to the editor

Better building designs needed for young adults with special needs

In the past six years, I have mentored and worked with 300 architects and soon to be architects. They look up to me as someone who “walks the talk” in social activism. And many of them reach out and help me when I am in despair with the current state of affairs. Last week was one such time when I first saw the photo of the Adult Transition Facility (ATP) that is being built in the Earl Warren Middle School campus.

Rohit Tak, a humanist, architect and Fulbright scholar, was aghast. “Surely, the Adult Transition Program (ATP) facility must be temporary because you can’t expect young adults to become independent, included and treated respectfully here.” He cynically remarked, “If it looks like a storage portable, then it was designed as one.” In UC Berkeley classrooms, he had heard all about inclusionary designs and how community input is an important stage in the planning process. He was disappointed to learn that the district completely left out the ATP facility in the Master Plans while renovating and upgrading the other district schools using Prop AA funds.

Tak also asked me, “Every individual has a right to the natural wind and light; thus, it’s important to integrate indoor-outdoor spaces in classroom settings. Why was this overlooked?”

I also must add that parents were not happy with the choice of the location. During the June 8 SDUHSD board meeting, over 50 parents had collectively gasped and indicated their annoyance with the strange explanation that the ATP facility was placed outside the fenced middle school because of transportation lines but not near a high school which has major transport lines because the kids are older there.

My sister, Sharmista, who has a background in architecture and is a licensed interior designer, shook her head and refused to accept the justification that electrical wiring and plug points were the reason why the windows were not added in the portables. She rolled her eyes and enlightened me that electrical wiring is not higher than 18 inches from the floor and doesn’t affect window placement.

After reviewing the plan, another architect pointed out that the learning center should have “vocational training labs, speech therapy centers, and more customized learning areas with automated wide doors …”

Every child has a right to fulfill his or her dream. In Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District, the Supreme Court ruled that the school districts must give students with disabilities the chance to make meaningful, “appropriately ambitious” progress and is this possible in this poorly planned windowless storage units? Let’s ask SDUHSD to design buildings that provide a better future for young adults with special needs.

Sheila Mitra-Sarkar