Officials agree to accessibility plan but balk at price

July 26, 1992|By Adam Sachs | Adam Sachs,Staff Writer

The county commissioners adopted a plan Thursday outlining structural changes to make public buildings accessible to the disabled, despite reservations about the estimated $1.2 million cost.

The Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990 requires the county to have a plan as of today for making public facilities accessible. The adopted plan, which includes lists of modifications for 31 public facilities, can be amended as work progresses, said Jolene G. Sullivan, county ADA coordinator.

Commissioner Julia W. Gouge called estimates for redesigning doorways and bathrooms and other modifications "excessive."

"I have a problem with $1,000 to replace a door," she said. As another example, she pointed to a $15,000 estimate to upgrade bathrooms at the Farm Museum.

Ms. Sullivan said the figures are based on county employees' estimates for exterior work and independent contractors' estimates for interior work.

Ms. Gouge suggested costs could be reduced by hiring a firm for a predetermined period to work under a government contract and perform the work that county employees couldn't do, rather than parceling out jobs to contractors. Ms. Sullivan agreed that that arrangement could be cheaper.

"We're looking at a lot of money and changing a lot of buildings," said Ms. Gouge.

Commissioner President Donald I. Dell said the estimates seemed "liberal," and he questioned whether the plan proposes "things we don't have to do."

The county plans to make the renovations over three fiscal years. The federal law, intended to prevent discrimination against those with physical or mental disabilities, requires renovations to be completed by January 1995.

The modifications will be included in the county's capital projects budget, whose predecessors were cut back in the past few years to address other problems.

"It's going to be a real serious challenge for county government ++ to meet mandates that aren't relaxed within the confines of restricted revenues," said Steven D. Powell, county budget director.

The most costly renovations will be for the Hashawha Environmental Appreciation Center, estimated at $155,160; the Courthouse Annex, at $143,880; the County Office Building, at $130,560; and the Health Department, at $79,800.

A county committee charged with inspecting buildings for accessibility enlisted Dennis Bozzell of Westminster to provide a more experienced perspective in the County Office Building.

"I went through each office in the building, and wherever there was a problem, I told them," said Mr. Bozzell, 29, who plays basketball with the Baltimore Wheelchair Athletic Club.

Some spaces were too cramped for wheelchairs and bathroom doors opened awkwardly, said Mr. Bozzell. The committee, following federal guidelines, detected other shortcomings: a walkway lacking curb ramps, narrow doorways, and a pay telephone, elevator buttons, urinals and water fountains that were too high.

The total estimated cost is about one-third of the $3.9 million originally projected 2 1/2 years ago, said Ms. Sullivan, adding that estimates include a 20 percent contingency for inflation and consulting.

The committee determined that some structural changes wouldn't be necessary under the law. For example, elevators or wheelchair lifts will not have to be installed in every building, provided that services are made available and accessible on a lower floor, said Ms. Sullivan.

By January 1993, the county also must have a plan ensuring equal access for the disabled to county services and activities, such as recreational functions.

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