Access for all eyed in Macon-Bibb ADA plan

jgaines@macon.comJune 22, 2014 

Among the many other issues Macon-Bibb County has to deal with post-consolidation, officials are legally required to consider whether public buildings are accessible to the disabled.

Renovations, office moves, new building purchases and construction have touched off another round of checking whether Macon-Bibb facilities comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

That requires formal adoption of a compliance plan for the 1990 federal civil rights law, said Doron Dvorak, compliance officer for Macon-Bibb County. The Georgia Department of Transportation mandates that the plan list all publicly owned buildings, identify which are open to the public and determine if they’re in compliance, he said via email.

That can vary depending on the building’s age and how much work has been done on it, Dvorak said. Also to be decided is how much a historic building can be altered, and what adjustments must be made in ongoing work.

“Eventually it would fall on whoever is in charge of maintaining the facilities, who is designing the building and who is overseeing alterations or construction to ensure they are complying with the applicable law in terms of the construction requirements,” Dvorak said. “I would then go in and audit our buildings or plans to ensure features of accessibility are being addressed and are being incorporated.”

Dvorak’s compliance plan was finished in May 2014 and is scheduled to come before Macon-Bibb commissioners for ratification Tuesday.

The resolution that prefaces the plan says public entities with 50 or more employees -- Macon-Bibb has nearly 2,000 -- must have plans in place when “structural changes to existing facilities” are needed to make them accessible to the disabled.

Plan and rules

Dvorak said he worked on the plan for several months, inspecting the properties and future plans, and reviewing what state and federal law requires of each type of building.

That generally requires consulting with the people who know best how each property is used and how accessible it is to the public, Dvorak said.

The age of a building and the extent of any planned renovations can determine whether ADA modifications are legally needed, he said.

If a building isn’t generally accessible to the public, it’s usually left unaltered, Dvorak said.

“Should any structure be identified as for public use, and in fact be in use, Macon-Bibb County government will do what is necessary to ensure full accessibility to the public,” he said.

Dvorak’s tally of building access notes needs at a variety of buildings: the law enforcement center at 668 Oglethorpe St. should have teletypewriter phones for the deaf. The courthouse annex at 609 Mulberry St. needs electronic door openers. The engineering annex building at 760 Mulberry St. needs wheelchair ramps and door openers. The tax commissioner’s tag office at the Macon Farmer’s Market, 2055 Eisenhower Parkway, needs ramps, door openers and teletypewriter phones. The senior citizens’ center at 1283 Adams St. needs the adjacent street regraded for wheelchair access and easier walking.

But noting those needs doesn’t necessarily mean ADA-compliant upgrades are imminent. There’s not serious pressure to make those changes, but the city-county government does always want to be sensitive to actual needs, County Manager Dale Walker said.

In the new government’s first budget, up for final approval Monday, there are no appropriations for specific ADA compliance projects.

“Each area is analyzed individually. With the new facilities being constructed, they must be ADA compliant,” Walker said. “With the older buildings, they must be reviewed. With historic buildings it is more of a challenge. Most likely renovations will be funded out of departmental budgets.”

But some work toward accessibility will be done in the course of ongoing construction, according to Dvorak’s plan. Retrofitting of elevators in the courthouse annex is down for this year, since that building is undergoing major renovation as part of a consolidation office reshuffle. The tag office in the farmer’s market is expected to move this year, as the former Capital City Bank building at 455 Walnut St. is renovated for the tax commissioner.

Other new buildings, such as the new Animal Welfare Center being built off Fulton Mill Road, will include ADA-compliant features in their plans.

Few complaints

Though a number of needs have been found, that doesn’t mean people have necessarily reported trouble accessing government buildings or services.

“Generally the number of complaints forwarded to my attention has been minimal,” Dvorak said.

Based in the county attorney’s office, Dvorak is the point of contact for any ADA concerns. If Dvorak hears of an issue, he will investigate and suggest what’s needed to correct the access problem, he said.

“I will be working on the plan further in the coming months to continue to identify those facilities which require increased accessibility, and (I) welcome the public to contact me with any areas they feel the county should look at as limited accessibility,” Dvorak said.

To contact writer Jim Gaines, call 744-4489.

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