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Adding accessibility: renovating for ADA.

At the Hartford Graduate Center, we made accessibility an issue well before the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed.

Our 154,000-square-foot center comprises a nine-story tower, a three-story seminar building, and a two-story plaza building.

Because architects and building professionals only recently began to seriously consider people with disabilities in building design and renovation, the Graduate Center offered minimal accessibility before we began retrofits in 1986. For example, of the facility's 17 restrooms, only two were accessible as built. And even in those two installations, accessibility was not complete.

To establish our priorities for retrofitting for accessibility, we identified the areas requiring retrofit using four factors. The first three will apply in most buildings.

First are the many compliance documents and guidebooks government and professional organizations have published concerning the ADA. Each describes how to rate a facility, providing a checklist highlighting areas needing attention. This clinical approach forms a solid base but fails to consider an equally important second factor, the building's "personality."

The personality is the business conducted within the facility and the people who make that business work. This combination changes to meet evolving client needs, which in turn influence how we use a building. We examined the Graduate Center's personality, making note of the user patterns and trends to develop a second tier of priorities. By weaving the systematic precepts of compliance manuals with the changing building personality, logical set of priorities developed.

The third factor is the existing financial constraints. Plans developed with good intentions face economic realities, making total compliance a difficult goal to achieve. Planned retrofits, set by a thorough facility evaluation, establish a base for capital budget planning.

Fourth, and special to the Graduate Center, was the reception of a grant issued for removing architectural barriers. This grant brought its own priorities.

According to the conditions of the grant, the Center would receive funds after the work was completed and the contractors paid. This cash flow constraint forced us to spread the retrofits out over an 18-month period.

The grant

On May 19, 1990, the Hartford Foundation for Giving awarded the Hartford Graduate Center a $150,000 grant to make the facility barrier free. While the grant offered us flexibility to address each area, it excluded other ADA issues from consideration. The grant would, however, permit us to complete projects that would otherwise have waited several years for available funds.

With the Foundation's requirements and the three planning factors listed earlier, we established priorities.

First on the list was the library entrance. The 36-inch-wide entrance was wide enough to meet ADA standards, but the manually operated, single-swing doors limited accessibility. In addition, the entrance and exit doors were reversed, forcing people to enter and exit through the left door. (This was a left-over from an old security system.)

To make the library entrance accessible, we choose Besam Swingmaster 450 automatic door openers with three-foot safety rails that extended from both sides of a four-inch entrance mullion. The rails aided in controlling traffic and discouraged people from standing in the swing of the doors. All automatic doors have presence sensors that prevent the doors from opening if the sensors detect motion.

The three doors at the Level 2 Tower lobby see the heaviest daily use. We replaced each of the main entrance doors with a Besan Power Glide 4000 sliding glass door. These doors open to seven feet. We next installed six Besan 150 Electra button-activated door openers in Levels 2 and 3. Two were for a Level 3 entrance near our parking garage, and the others opened interior fire doors.

With Levels 1 to 3 meeting ADA requirements for restrooms, the focus shifted to Levels 4 to 8. The floor plans and the building core made earlier expansion on Levels 1 and 3 an easy proposition, each having adjacent space available for conversion.

Level 4 offered a similar solution. With 300 students attending evening classes on Level 4, lavatory expansion became a priority. With the concentration of students, the present facilities violated occupancy code requirements. After we converted the area from a combination of faculty offices and classrooms to all classrooms, the number of people who regularly use the area jumped, and we needed to install more fixtures in the restrooms.

We doubled the number of existing fixtures by reducing the size of an adjoining classroom by 10 linear feet (265 square feet). On Level 5, we converted about 66 square feet of adjacent space into one accessible restroom.

The auditorium

The final area considered for retrofit was Stoker Hall, a 2,400-square-foot auditorium frequently rented to outside organizations. The main speaking area is a "pit," an open area two feet below the entrance height lined with staggered, stepped seats. The interior of the hall is 50 feet square with curved corners. We chose to make this area accessible with the remaining funds.

Located within the Seminar Hall building, Stoker Hall is enclosed by corridors that provide registration, storage, and break areas. Across from the Stoker entrance are two rooms that double as dining and meeting areas.

We considered three options:

* Building a ramp along the interior wall, along the curve.

* Building a ramp around the exterior of the hall, entering through the wall.

* Installing a motorized lift near the stairs.

We chose an American Stair-Glide power lift for aesthetic and practical reasons. First of all, the two ramp options posed logistic problems, with the ratio between rise and length (1:12) requiring a ramp 24 feet long. An interior ramp, starting at the top of the steps, would extend too close to the speaking area. An exterior ramp would begin before the stairs if we graded part of the concrete floor. The extra distance would place the ramp base before the curve, in the place where we would install an automatic door.

The lift offered a clean, compact, and visually pleasing alternative, but lifts are not always the first choice for people with disabilities. For example, if keys are lost or misplaced or if power is interrupted, a lift is useless. To solve these concerns, we kept keys in the unit and installed one dedicated 20-amp circuit that easily supports the lift's 10-amp power requirement.

Finally, we renovated our front desk. Next to our reception area is the school bookstore with the receptionist responsible for registering sales. Again, we kept the existing 40-inch-high counter, which speeds the traffic during each semester rush. This time, however, we set aside a space next to the register 3 inches long and 29 inches high. The auxiliary counter meets ADA regulations.

Technical requirements

Each item addressed for renovation has technical requirements, specifying dimensions, heights, and widths that the final installation must meet.

In smaller projects, like water fountain retrofits, simple requirements like spout height, knee clearance, and clear floor space make the installation relatively easy. The Elkay water fountains that we installed were designed to be barrier-free, leaving installation the only challenge.

Larger projects should have a clause making the contractor responsible for compliance to ADA specifications. We put a design/build format into our restroom bid package, requiring the contractor to design the project before its construction. We provided preliminary drawings to establish parameters in the design process.

Included in the contractor's final drawings were access paths, sink heights, faucet levers, adequate leg room allowances under counters, and appropriate dispenser heights. With compliance placed on the contractor's shoulders, any deficiencies will be its to correct. This feature helps control change orders, often a costly aspect of any renovation.

We experienced one related specification problem in the Level 4 restroom project. All three urinals were installed at the same height, 24.5 inches, while the ADA required one of them to be installed with an elongated lip 17 inches above the finished floor. Because the plumbing contractor had installed the fixtures according to the initial set of drawings, not the final drawings, the labor and material cost needed to make the required changes fell to that firm, not to us.

Stretching dollars

In-house staff can help stretch grant and other retrofit money. For instance, try to use in-house staff when the skills exist and time permits, considering routine work the staff must complete.

In our case, the Center's electrician ran the 120V circuit required for each door opener and the motorized lift. Our maintenance staff patched and painted walls after the contractors finished the library entrance, the water fountain installations, and entrance doors.

You also can reuse many materials. Rather than purchase new fixtures for the restrooms, we used the original toilets and urinals. (However, because the sinks and stalls had a dated look, we purchased new ones.) Using our own employees and available materials, we saved enough to purchase the motorized lift.

Looking back

In most projects, I always find something I would have done a little differently. For example, I think that we should have purchased all of the Besam automatic doors and openers at the same time to get a better price.

Detailed research into the Levels 6 to 8 restroom retrofit would have placed those restrictions at the start of the planning process. Because our preliminary estimates to complete the restroom renovations showed that the work would consume the remaining grant funds, our initial focus was limited to the grant's requirements. When we realized that retrofits on Levels 6 to 8 could not be completed, we switched our attention to existing barriers such as water fountains, door handles, and stairs.

While architects and builders in the past may have lacked the vision to design a barrier-free work environment, architects today are designing accessibility into their projects--and building managers are renovating accessibility into theirs.

Step back and compare the details of an older building's design with design changes since the ADA's passage. Today, each building management professional adjusts for the deficiencies practiced by well-intentioned designers. The ADA now plays a part in every project the Center completes.

As an institution of higher education, we strive to make the facility contributory to learning. Providing the opportunity for people to increase, as an economist may say, their "human capital," is important in today's global economy. Accessibility opens the human capital potential for everyone. A sticker on a file cabinet here states it bluntly: "If you think education is expensive, try unemployment."

The Nitty Gritty of ADA Compliance

The passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act makes it mandatory for commercial building tenants, owners, and managers to provide equal access to all people. While there often is no way of knowing whether a building is in complete compliance, certain types of alterations display a "good faith effort" in complying with the new ruling.

Interior Compliance

IBM's Atlanta Center for Education worked with Heery International on an audit and remediation plan for the main elevator lobby and the public spaces in its two buildings.

Problem: Elevator car controls have no Braille translations.

Remedy: Add Braille characters to the existing raised letters.

Problem: Elevator hoistway entrances lack raised and Braille floor designations.

Remedy: Add raised and Braille lettering to both sides of elevator door jambs on each floor.

Problem: Spout of drinking fountain is 39 inches from floor.

Remedy: Lower the spout outlet to no more than 36 inches from floor.

Problem: Lobby entrance door was only 31 inches wide.

Remedy: Increase door width to minimum of 32 inches.

Problem: Toilet seat in the accessible stall was 21 inches above the floor.

Remedy: Lower top of toilet seat position to between 17 and 19 inches from floor.

Problem: Rims of the urinals are 20 inches above the floor, 3 inches over maximum.

Remedy: Reduce height to 17 inches from floor.

Exterior Compliance

Phase I of a compliance plan at the Westfork Office Park in suburban Atlanta called for Heery International to identify exterior areas that needed attention.

Problem: Absence of curb ramps limits access at two tenant entrances.

Remedy: Provide a curb ramp 36 inches wide with flared sides and with a maximum slope of 1:12. Add detectable warnings that contrast visually with adjacent surfaces.

Problem: A sign for designated accessible parking was placed so low that it could not be seen when a vehicle occupied the space.

Remedy: Relocate and raise the sign so that it is not obscured when the accessible space is occupied.

Problem: No accessible aisles were marked adjacent to the accessible parking spaces, which are between 126 and 149 inches wide.

Remedy: Re-stripe to convert some of the extra spaces to provide a marked 60-inch-wide aisle next to each of the 96-inch-wide accessible parking spaces.

Paul Murphy is director of operations and facilities for the Hartford Graduate Center, Hartford, Connecticut.
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Title Annotation:Americans with Disabilities Act
Author:Murphy, Paul
Publication:Journal of Property Management
Date:May 1, 1993
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