Covington becoming accessible


Officials begin initiative to get city government buildings ADA complaint

Covington News Banner
March 3, 2003
By Leslie Ackel
http://www.newsbanner.com/articles/2003/03/03/news/export16000.txt

COVINGTON - The city of Covington has begun a wide-ranging initiative to ensure its government buildings comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act so people with disabilities have an equal opportunity to participate in civic life.

The work initiative has been spearheaded by Covington City Administrator Adrienne Strouble, who was made aware of the city's non-compliancy at several government facilities, buildings which fall under the ADA standards of Title II.

Last November Strouble toured City Hall, the police station, the Greater Covington Center and the public parks with Yadi Mark, a wheelchair-bound member of the Governor's Advisory Board of Disability Affairs, to focus on specific requirements of how compliancy standards could be affordably accomplished to make public facilities handicap accessible.

"It makes a real difference to put a person's face and situation to the real needs of handicapped persons," said Strouble.

Mark then led Jarmie Martino, director of the Greater Covington Center, Strouble and Steven Michelle, public safety representative from the Covington Fire Department, through the GCC. Specific requirements were addressed concerning the center's accessibility at that time.

Following the tour, Martino began the job of overseeing the work that has taken the Greater Covington Center from non-compliancy to accessibility for persons with disabilities. Originally, the facility was home of Covington First Baptist Church. Under law, religious institutions are exempt from the ADA codes. However, when the facility was purchased by the city, it had minimal accessible design.

Now the GCC is a government facility and home to the Community Wellness Center, Delgado Community College, Sullivan Vocational Technical College, the YMCA Child Development Center, the Workforce Initiative Network, Families Services of New Orleans, Option 3 Program, DYNEL Communications, Commission on Families St. Tammany Literacy and the Furhman Auditorium.

Accessible alterations

With laws in place providing that a place of public accommodation must be made to ensure the facility is readily accessible by individuals with disabilities, Covington officials have begun to recognize the need for change.

"There has been a combined effort of several departments to get the renovations under way," Strouble said.

In early December, Public Works employees were pulled from pre-assigned jobs to start pouring concrete for wheelchair ramps. Both Strouble and Martino said Ronnie Russell, Mitch Mogg and Michael King worked diligently to complete the city's project.

"Once they realized the importance of what they were doing, they were very dedicated to finishing the project," Strouble said.

"The mayor and Adrienne made the project first priority," Martino added.

She said the focus of the barrier removal alterations began with the parking lots. Three new van accessible parking spaces were added. A new ramp was installed, and an existing non-compliant ramp was replaced. All spaces were restriped and signs posted so that finding locations can be accomplished independently.

Interior doors that previously exceeded the weight limit were adjusted to open with lesser force, Martino said. A portable aluminum ramp was acquired to allow wheelchair users access onto the Furhman Auditorium stage. Signage, complete with braille, has been installed throughout the center to direct people to the accessible restrooms.

Originally, only one restroom was handicap accessible. Now three restrooms have been successfully renovated using minimal structural modifications.

Toilets were raised to 18 inches in height. Walls and grab bars now allow for wheelchair accessibility to at least one stall per restroom. All exposed plumbing fixtures were covered with protective wraps to avert the possibility of a burn.

A 25-foot handrail was installed along a wheelchair ramp leading to the educational section of the building.

The project at the GCC has received the lions share of monies dedicated to barrier removal so far, Strouble said. "We spent $9,000 on the project, this cost does not include labor."


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