Monday, May 16, 2011

For Palm Beach, Fla., schools, 100,000 repairs to become ADA compliant

From the Palm Beach Post:

As the Palm Beach County School Board considers proposed budget cuts that would slash facilities workers by 35 percent next year, the district also faces the need to make more than 100,000 repairs to schools to meet federal access laws for people with disabilities.

The district recently completed a comprehensive facilities review and identified 100,973 work orders where things need to be fixed, replaced or redesigned to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, said facilities chief Joe Sanches.

The act, passed in 1990, requires access to public buildings for people with disabilities.

More than half of the issues involve problems with doors and gates, Sanches said. Round door knobs do not meet federal requirements, which means replacing them with levers, said Facilities Services Director Martin Mets. The district also will have to fix problems with doors that close too fast because the pressurized "door swing" hinge is broken, Mets said.

Another third of the work orders involve problems in public restrooms, such as sinks and soap dispensers built too high for people who have to use wheelchairs, Sanches said.

Other problems will require installing additional water fountains at a wheelchair accessible height, Mets said. Crews also will have to repair platform lifts, elevators and ramps in schools and create additional handicapped parking spaces in some parking lots.

Sanches said he does not have a cost estimate but said he is hoping to complete up to 23,000 work orders per year for the next four to five years.

Mets said many of the things like door swing repairs are items his maintenance staff would be fixing anyway and may not add to the district's maintenance costs. Others like the restriping of parking lots will have to be designed and bid out .

"We will be requesting money in this budget session to correct some of these issues," Mets said .

In the district's recommended cuts to plug a $35.4 million budget hole next year, Superintendent Bill Malone has proposed cutting the budget for facilities by more than $2 million, or about 19 percent, and laying off many painters, carpenters and repairmen.

Tina Philips, chief executive officer of the Palm Beach Habilitation Center, which provides services to people with physical and mental disabilities, said she was impressed by the attention shown by government agencies to provide disabled access to all public buildings in the county, not just schools.

"It's bad that there are that many problems, but it is good that somebody is taking stock of all of them," Philips said.

Genevieve Cousminer, executive director of the Coalition for Independent Living that advocates for disabled residents in Palm Beach County, also praised the district for trying to come into compliance on its own instead of waiting until it was forced by a lawsuit.

District Chief Counsel Bruce Harris said the district does not face any lawsuits regarding ADA requirements. Students would have to show that the problem is denying them equal access to school programs. By fixing the problem quickly, Sanches said, access is not denied. However if the district does not create a plan to fix the ADA issues and pay for them, Sanches said, the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights could force repairs.


Repairs or changes required at Palm Beach County School District facilities to meet Americans with Disabilities design guidelines by category:

1. Doors and gates: 54,572

2. Public restrooms: 37,494

3. Drinking fountains: 2,347

4. Interior accessibility routes: 1,230

5. Public assembly areas: 911

6. Dressing rooms: 704

7. Parking lot changes: 647

8. Outdoor curb ramps: 641

9. Interior ramps: 586

10. Elevators: 420

11. Exterior accessibility routes: 392

12. Exterior accessibility routes between buildings on campus: 325

13. Passenger loading zones: 303

14. Stairs: 266

15. Platform lifts: 135

Total: 100,973

Source: Palm Beach County School District Facilities Management Department