A new $1.5 million City Hall, built in part to provide better access to the disabled, has turned out to be full of barriers, especially for people in wheelchairs.
City officials discovered this week the remodeled building doesn’t meet accessibility codes. A consultant documented three pages of violations.
“A broad range of concerns were raised from the bathrooms and the front door to signage and parking,” said Mayor David Sawyer.
“We are not interested in creating a Cadillac facility for people with impairments, but as it is now the car is not even running.”
The building was finished five months ago, long before Sawyer took office. It was built to relieve overcrowding and to address major accessibility problems in the old City Hall.
So Sawyer is dumbfounded about how access requirements were overlooked during the project.
“It seems there were some assumptions along the way that the architect would deal with it or someone else would deal with it. What happened is no one dealt with it,” Sawyer said.
Scott Hancock, wheelchair-bound by polio, toured City Hall this week after receiving several complaints about accessibility.
Hancock has been an access consultant since 1970, traveling the Northwest to do work for the Forest Service, architects and hotels.
He found several major problems at City Hall.
“For the city to have moved from one building that was inaccessible to a new one, and overlook accessible bathrooms is really hard for me to comprehend,” Hancock said. “The bathrooms are clearly illegal and out of compliance.”
A wheelchair can fit into the bathroom but that leaves no room to close the door, he said. There also isn’t enough room to get a wheelchair next to the stool, or near the sink and there are no grab bars on the wall.
The one semi-accessible bathroom Hancock found was co-ed, 250 feet down a hallway and behind a locked door to the Fire Department.
“That’s nuts. There is no way to find that bathroom. Some city employees didn’t even know it was there,” Hancock said.
Other items noted were:
No automatic door at the City Hall entrance. The county courthouse was required to install one several years ago.
Only one handicapped parking place. There should be two.
No signs at the entrance, including one in braille, to tell where the elevator, bathrooms and emergency exits are.
“At the very minimum they need a (call) button at the front for people to push if they require assistance,” Hancock said.
Architect Doug Long said the code violations came as a surprise to him. He wanted to see a copy of Hancock’s written report before commenting.
Long did say the second floor of the building, occupied by the school district, has signs and accessible toilets. Hancock insists that also needs to be done on the main floor. Although he found many problems, he did say access to city offices and the council chambers is very good.
“You just can’t access anything else. What are you supposed to do, pee in the corner.”
Hancock estimated it would cost about $15,000 to $20,000 to fix the bathrooms. He also commended the city for taking the issue seriously.
“I am concerned about it,” Sawyer said. “We have a number of people in the community with disabilities and we have to make sure they have the same access and services as other residents.”
Sawyer wants to review Hancock’s final report with other city officials, the building inspector, contractor and architect.
“I’m a little leery to point fingers at anybody about how this happened because ultimately the city is responsible,” Sawyer said. “But we will be talking with the others involved with the project.”