Cost of ADA Compliance $1M for North Adams

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
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The council on Tuesday heard an update on the federal audit of the city's ADA compliance and voted to raze a building if it isn't fixed by the end of September.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The city is expected to spend some $1 million in retrofitting and fixes over the next three to five years to comply with federal American With Disabilities Act.

Mayor Richard Alcombright gave the heads up to the City Council on Tuesday night that he would be requesting an initial borrowing order of $250,000 to begin the work.

The work is part of an agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice, which audited the city's facilities in 2010 after receiving a complaint. The initial findings had 300 items that have since been negotiated down to 250.

"This agreement has been will be for three years and will be financially addressed in several ways," the mayor read from his letter to the council. He explained that the DOJ does "not make agreements more than three years but they are willing to work with communities that work with them."

The agreement addresses fixes that can be met in regular maintenance budgets, through the use of Community Development Block Grants, Chapter 90 funds and borrowing. The agreement has been endorsed by the Disabilities Commission.

While that will cover replacing every doorknob in the city, major projects such as public safety building, the inaccessibility of which led to the initial complaint, may require more.

Some of the first changes will occur at City Hall, where new office signs with Braille will be installed and the floor buttons in the elevator will be lowered at a cost of $15,000.

The agreement covers a range facilities and areas — all the parks, the public library, sidewalks, North Berkshire YMCA because it provides school programs and St. Elizabeth's Parish Center, which will require significant regrading and new entrance for voters. It does not include the schools.

Alcombright said renovations to the parish center would take some thought since the new Conte Middle School will be handicapped accessible. Four of the city's wards now vote at the parish center but could move back to Conte and the High Rise.

Councilor Lisa Blackmer questioned why newer buildings, such as the library, were not ADA compliant.

Building Inspector William Meranti, who with Administrative Officer Michael Canales was instrumental in negotiating a compromise on the lengthy checklist, said the city had worked through the state's Board of Architects but many of the projects were done piecemeal.

"Some of that stuff sounds ominous and terrible but it happened," he said. In some cases the wrong handrail was used, or a toilet is 2 inches too tall. "They bought fixtures that were close, but just not ADA compliant."

The city's topography also makes it difficult to meet the grade requirements for ramps,  such as at the library. The ramp on City Hall is 1 percent off, Meranti said, but the DOJ was convinced to let it go because of the high cost of replacing it.

The council also approved an order from the mayor's office ordering the structure at 160R Eagle St. to be rehabilitated or razed by Sept. 28. The council declared it a public nuisance after a public hearing at its last meeting.

Building Inspector William Meranti, left, and Administrative Officer Michael Canales worked with the Department of Justice over the city's ADA compliance. A summary of the agreement is below.
Michael Hernandez, who is listed as both principal of owner Nandez LLC as well as owner, appeared before the council saying there had been a miscommunication.

"I was under the impression I had to complete the vinyl siding and windows," he said, adding that there had been a 200 amp service installed. "All I am asking for is the time to complete the permit work."

Meranti confirmed that a permit had been taken out in May that would expire Sept. 28 but said no significant work had been done; a similar permit had also been taken out in 2003.

Councilor Keith Bona wondered how long the council would be strung along by minimal work. "If a house can be preserved I'm for that," he said. "But how did we go nine years from that permit?"

"This order is to raze or rehabilitate," said Blackmer. "If he can rehabilitate it in a month so be it."

Alcombright said the building might be structurally sound but the building was a blight on the neighborhood. It was up to Hernandez, now, he said. "He has the permit, he has the order and he has the time."

In other business:

• The council approved unanimously National Grid's request to place a sub pole on Daniels Road to replace a fallen tree that had supported a guy wire to a utility pole and 8-1 the relocation of two poles on Curran Highway to accommodate the widening of the driveway for the new Walmart Supercenter, with Councilor John Barrett III voting naye.

• Postponed to the second meeting in September the issue of delinquent tax collections at the request of Counciler Alan Marden, chairman of the Finance Committee, to allow the committee to complete its review.

• Marden, a member of the Northern Berkshire Industrial Park Corp., requested the council adopt a state law that would designate an employee of the corporation a "special municipal employee" to allow its counsel, Jeffrey Grandchamp, to also represent one of its members without conflict of interest. The vote was unanimous.

• A resolution created by Councilor Marie Harpin and state Rep. Gailanne Cariddi, D-North Adams, supporting services for veterans in North Berkshire County was passed unanimously.

• The mayor reported that final interviews for public safety commissioner were done last week and background checks were being completed.

Summary of Agreement Between North Adams and DOJ
Tags: ADA,   audit,   demolition,   public nuisance,   

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