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Water damage creates hazard at East Hall gym
County says repairs planned, but activist for disabled says more issues need attention
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Justin Pressley points out sections of the gym Wednesday at the East Hall Community Center that are unusable due to water damage. Pressley said he needs the court at the community center fixed before a possible mid-January Power Soccer tournament, with teams possibly traveling from as far as St. Louis and Virginia Beach. - photo by Erin O. Smith

Justin Pressley hadn’t noticed that a corner section of one basketball court at the East Hall Community Center was rotted and bowed after a leak in the gym warped the wood.

Chasing after a ball in his electric wheelchair during his team’s Power Soccer practice, Pressley hit the bump in the floor and nearly lost his balance.

“I about turned over,” he said.

Now, several months later, the problem persists.

“When it rains hard, water runs into the front gym from the outside,” Pressley said.

Bleachers act as a partition from the rotted section, though balls are often kicked and stuck behind the makeshift barrier.

“It is actually dangerous,” Pressley said. “Someone could get injured the way it is.”

To Pressley, it’s also a sign that access and sports programming for disabled individuals is low on the totem pole.

“It’s just not been a priority,” he added.

County officials told The Times they are aware of the problem in the East Hall gym and staff in the parks department are working to fix it.

“They have removed a small section of flooring outside of the playing court to help better determine where the water is coming from,” county spokeswoman Katie Crumley said. “We are currently waiting on a quote from contractors to have the outside wall sealed. The removed section of floor will not be replaced until that is addressed.”

Pressley said he needs the court at the community center fixed before a possible mid-January Power Soccer tournament, with teams possibly traveling from as far as St. Louis and Virginia Beach.

Pressley, 43, has been active in the Gainesville and Hall County community for years, advocating on behalf of disabled persons and trumpeting the advantages of independent living care.

After suffering a spinal cord injury in a motorcycle accident in the 1980s that left him quadriplegic, Pressley co-founded the Disability Resource Center in Gainesville, a nonprofit organization that provides independent living support.

He hopes to expand sports for the disabled to include canoeing and swimming at the Lake Lanier Olympic Venue once ADA access renovations are complete.

Pressley said the current situation at the community center is exacerbated by the fact that Power Soccer has not been allowed on the Field of Dreams at Alberta Banks Park, a rubberized ball field specifically designed for wheelchair use.

“I would like to find out how many times they’ve used the (park), and what other programs and opportunities for people with disabilities they have and how often,” Pressley said.

County officials said the field, built mostly with private donations, is intended only for youth leagues and that the rubber material would be damaged by the heavy, fast-paced, wear-and-tear of a game like Power Soccer.

The problems with the basketball court have led Pressley to speak out about other access issues. For example, he said the community center has no electronic-opening doors at its entrance, the men’s bathroom sink is not compliant with the American with Disabilities Act, and curbs around the back entrance are not wheelchair-accessible.

“If Hall County had a knowledgeable ADA coordinator, things like this wouldn’t be forgotten,” Pressley said.

County officials, however, rebutted Pressley’s charges that programming is not inclusive enough.

Crumley said the human resources department ensures that disabled employees are treated fairly and have equal opportunities.

Building maintenance staff also works to better access for disabled people at government facilities.

And the parks department is looking for new ways to serve the disabled, young and old.

“Obviously, our parks are able to accommodate (the disabled) because that’s why we were selected to host the Special Olympics,” Crumley said.

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