Not Up To Code
Covington officials determined to make buildings accessible
Covington News Banner
December 26, 2002
BY Leslie Ackel
(Third in a series)
COVINGTON - Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, Title II (state and local government), the city of Covington's governmental offices were found to be lacking in compliancy with Americans with Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines standards. However, city officials who participated in a recent survey with The News Banner were determined to begin removing barriers and adding programs that would ultimately make their meeting spaces, parks and special events facilities accessible to persons with disabilities.
City Administrator Adrienne Strouble, who doubles as Covington's ADA co-ordinator, submitted an official and complete transition plan to The News Banner for the survey. The plan was prepared by local architect Randy Aultman, written in compliancy with the ADA to help the city access it public facilities which included, for study in this series, parks, Covington City Hall, The Greater Covington Center and the Covington
Aultman's ADA transitional report addressed specific issues such as signage, restrooms, drinking fountains, handrails and park facilities. With this transition plan in house, Strouble has been able to definitively allocate funds for improvements within their budget under the Public Safety heading. "We are behind in our transition," Strouble admitted, "but we are determined to create a better accessible city for our citizens with disabilities."
With that determined, Strouble accompanied The News Banner personnel and guide Yadi Mark of the Governor's Advisory Board of Disability Affairs throughout the study, taking notes and even trying out existing barriers for herself in order to fully understand the issue of accessibility.
Covington City Hall
The News Banner found that Covington City Hall is handicap accessible via a regulation ramp of 1 inch rise for every 12 inches on the building's south side. However, once inside City Hall, no accessible rest room is available for use by employees or visitors.
The accessible rest rooms were found inside the city police department's headquarters adjacent to City Hall. Doors, both exterior and interior of the buildings, were not equipped with levers required for accessible entrance, and the force to push or pull the doors open on interior doors was in excess of 5 pounds. Minimal acceptable width of passage for a wheelchair (30 inches) was found to be available.
The one designated handicap accessible parking space, located in the rear of the building, lacked the necessary 5-foot access isle for safe wheelchair use beside the parking space, and no visible signage was found to direct a person with a disability to the accessible entrance. Countertops and water fountains are accessible only to ambulatory persons and are in need of redesigning, according to Aultman's transition plan.
The Covington City Council chambers is accessible if doors are opened for the disabled person. However, like the Mandeville City Council chambers, there is no accessible route to the council seats. Interior doors well exceed the weight limit of 5 pounds per unit.
If a person in a wheel chair is in the audience and wishes to address the council from the podium, the podium height would require modification. The dias is totally inaccessible should a wheelchair user be an elected official.
Covington Police Department
This office, located adjacent to and attached by a breezeway to Covington City Hall, was found to be in need of code upgrades similar to the building which houses the Offices of the Mayor. Equipped with the only handicap accessible rest rooms in the entire complex, a 20-inch planter filled with dirt and a dying tropical plant was found to be situated in the area of wheelchair access to the women's restroom.
Greater Covington Center
The newly opened Greater Covington Center, formerly the home to Covington's First Baptist Church, was found to be partially accessible but not without violation. Jarmie Martino, GCC director, Strouble and Stephen Michell, public safety director, toured the public facility along with newspaper personnel to learn what specific measures should be taken to better assist citizens with disabilities who wish to be employed within or utilize the facility.
The appropriate number of marked van accessible parking spaces are provided at the GCC. However, as noted in the Aultman's transition plan, usable wheelchair ramps need to be constructed near the accessible parking spaces on 23rd Avenue in order to connect the ramps to the building.
At the time of this survey there was no accessible ramp leading onto the Furhmann Auditorium stage. This prohibited wheelchair users from performing on stage or delivering speeches from the stage area.
"The ADA guidelines are created to help facilities come into compliance with the least amount of expense," said Yadi Mark. Who suggested a portable ramp be purchased and stored inside the building to make the stage accessible when necessary.
Mark found the restrooms on the second floor that service the health unit and the classrooms were not accessible. However, she said after examining both the men's and women's rest rooms, "These rooms can be easily converted and with little expense."
The Americans with Disabilities Act requires that all public accommodations, including recreational areas like playgrounds, be accessible to individuals with disabilities.
The city of Covington owns and maintains five parks within its boundaries. After close scrutiny of the facilities it was found that accessibility for children using wheelchairs would be difficult. Accessible water fountains and level pathways were missing, and the public swimming pool at Peter Atkins park has no lift. The accessible restroom at the Bogue Falaya Wayside Park was padlocked.
Governmental entities must ensure effective communication, including the provision of necessary auxiliary aids and services so that individuals with disabilities can participate in civic life.
Council Clerk Lynn Moore, who prepares the council agendas for public distribution, states on all agendas and public announcements precise instructions on how a person with disabilities can request assistance to attend a public meeting whether that person is deaf, blind or wheelchair bound.
For citizens requiring special auxiliary aids such as an American Sign Language interpreter or a Braille agenda, Moore or Strouble will contact the National Federation of the Blind of Louisiana or the Deaf Action Center Northshore for assistance.
Progress has been made at the Greater Covington Center since the survey was taken. Strouble reported that a mobile ramp was purchased for use at the Furhman Auditorium stage, nine handicap accessible parking spaces, including four with van accessibility, have been added and a new wheelchair ramp has been constructed. Fixtures for modifications have been ordered.
"We felt that with all the Christmas programs set to go on at the center, we would begin our modifications there," Strouble said.
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