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Joyce Endee

ADA bathroom upgrade not required

Town Manager says final cost of ADA compliance could be $1 million

by Thomas Beeler
Editor of The Granite State News
October 11, 2012
WOLFEBORO — Town Manager Dave Owen informed selectmen at their Oct. 3 meeting that the town is not required to make the first floor bathroom in Town Hall handicapped-accessible.

During public comment at the Aug. 15 selectmen's meeting town resident Bobby Hanson, who had filed the original complaint against the town for not complying with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 2005, had warned selectmen that the town should not be holding public meetings in the Town Hall meeting room because a handicapped-accessible bathroom was not available to anyone attending a meeting there. There is a bathroom adjacent to the meeting room but its use is restricted to town employees. No bathrooms in Town Hall are available to the public.

Owen said SFC Engineering Partnership of Auburn was hired to evaluate the issue. The evaluation was done on Sept. 12 by SFC's Code & Compliance Specialist Cheryl Killam, who had investigated Hanson's 2005 complaint for the state. In the resulting Sept. 25 report SFC wrote that since the meeting room itself has not been altered, "alterations to the bathroom serving the Meeting Room are not required at the time." The report also noted that while meeting room is "an area of primary function" under the terms of Title II of the act, the bathroom itself is not.

Even though SFC's report gave the opinion that alterations to the bathroom at issue are not required, it stated "SFC recommends that when a meeting open to the public is held in the Town Hall Meeting Room, this bathroom must be made available to the public for the entire period of time that the meeting is in session, and this bathroom needs to be as accessible as possible to accommodate people with disabilities." The report pointed out that the bathroom could be used in its present configuration by someone in a wheelchair, but "with a few changes…the usability for persons with mobility related disabilities will be greatly improved."

Eight specific recommendations for improving the handicap accessibility of the bathroom were included in the SFC report.

Also under the heading of ADA compliance Owen told selectmen that he had been contacted by the town manager in Bedford who wanted to know how much it has cost the town to meet the terms of its ADA settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice.

To answer the question Owen said he collected information on projects from 2009 onward that were undertaken to meet ADA requirements. The list included the new bathhouse at Albee Beach, the accessible sidewalks installed in the Downtown Street project and other projects where ADA accessibility was included. The total was $605,000. Since the town needs to make further improvements to meet the terms of its settlement agreement – including redoing the Town Hall parking lot, which will be proposed for 2013 – Owen estimated the final total could be over $1 million.

Selectmen Chair Linda Murray noted that the voters have supported all of the ADA-related improvements made to date.

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