NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The city is no longer required to submit annual reports to the U.S. Department of Justice on its efforts to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Since reaching an agreement with the DOJ, North Adams has spent $1,259,598.95 toward projects that bring it into compliance with the federal law and is now considered to have completed 85 percent of the outlined project.s
"When I first got the report there were more than 300 things that we needed to deal with in the city in respect to ADA compliance," Mayor Richard Alcombright told the City Council on Tuesday. "It seemed quite daunting and [Administrative Officer Michael Canales] has taken this program, he's owned it, and as I've said, we are no longer under the reporting requirement."
He credited Canales, Building Inspector William Meranti and other city personnel for their work in meeting the federal government's requirements.
The city reached the agreement in 2012 with the federal agency under Project Civic Access, the department's initiative to ensure compliance of the ADA that prompts the DOJ to survey state and local government facilities, services and programs nationwide. The audit occurred the year before, sparked by a complaint related to the Police Station.
Four annual reports have been submitted since then outlining projects including public bathroom renovation and construction, accessible pathways, sidewalks, switches and signage, ramps, elevator controls, playgrounds, counters and entrances. Personnel have also been to training presentations presented by the state Office of Disability and the Western Regionl Homeland Security Advisory Council.
Some of the items on the list have been renovations or replacements, others were constructed with the ADA compliance in mind.
"Every time that we've now taken on a [project] whether it's playgrounds, whether it's buildings, bathrooms, whatever, we're conscious of making sure these facilities are being brought up to code and we're meeting the ADA compliance," Canales said. "We don't want to have this list build up again."
Nearly $350,000 of the capital and grant funding spent was on bathrooms, many at the city's parks. Another $200,000 or so was on making sidewalks and curb ramps handicapped accessible. Funding from a Complete Streets grant was used to evaluate all the sidewalks to identify those that needed to be updated.
"Instead of being surprised by a list, we will already have a list showing that we've identified internally things we need to stay on top of," he said.
Canales said he expects to complete the next phases of sidewalk work — about $220,000 — using state Chapter 90 road money over the next few cycles. The city has also applied for a grant through the state Commission on Disabilities to make the city's website accessible.
But there's still no answer for the biggest project on the list, and the one that started it all. The 60-year-old public safety building has issues far beyond ADA compliance, but for the Department of Justice, that's the main focus.
"In order to just meet the ADA compliance we would have to spend $2.1 million and it would decrease the functionality of the space specifically as a police department," Canales said of the results of a recent ADA study. "We would have to take out cells to increase hallways."
The city is going to do a full feasibility study to address both the ADA and functionality.
"We'll continue to move forward and try to keep the city as best we can compliant, but one big one, we still don't have a full answer at this point to address it," he said.
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