Although Lodi residents were very excited about the new field and bright lights at the Grape Bowl, there were some very important additions that may have been lost on most in attendance Thursday night. In an effort to achieve compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, the city made several changes to accommodate those with disabilities at the Bowl. All of the necessary improvements have not yet been made, according to city parks superintendent Steve Dutra, but quite a few are complete.
"Do we have a long ways to go? Yes," Dutra said. "But we have an ADA transition plan, and we've started making improvements."
Among those improvements are: Seating at the top of the bleachers, with interspersed sections of seats so people can sit with their wheelchair-bound friends and family; ramps that provide a path to travel to both the field and the upper level of the stadium; seating at the lower levels of the bleachers with rails nearby; and new stalls in the adjacent parking lot. Additionally, Dutra said that wheelchairs could actually be taken onto the artificial turf itself, which could be beneficial for wheelchair-bound students at high school graduation ceremonies.
"Everything has been designed and inspected very thoroughly," Dutra said.
The Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law in 1990, and it requires that public facilities be accessible to disabled individuals.
There was a handful of disabled fans in the stadium Thursday night, and those who spoke with the News-Sentinel said their experience at the revamped Grape Bowl was seamless and simple.
Former Lodi High football player Dave Smith watched the game from his wheelchair in the new seating area at the top of the bleachers. He said the ADA-compliant improvements were nice, but he was more taken with the lustrous new turf.
"I wish we had the field when I was playing ball here," Smith said.
Lodi High alumnus Otto Shamber also watched the action from the top of the bleachers, but he parked his wheelchair behind the middle section of bleachers on the home half of the stadium. He chose the spot because that's where his friends were seated, and said getting into the stadium was relatively easy.
"We parked in the disabled parking and came right up the concrete ramp," Shamber said. "It was a lot easier than coming up the asphalt."
Once permanent restrooms are installed in a future batch of renovations, Dutra said they will also be ADA-compliant and have disabled stalls.
Contact reporter Fernando Gallo at fernando@lodinews. com.