Published: Mar. 12, 2015 | Posted: March 18, 2015 | Written by: Steven Smith
Correcting Americans with Disabilities Act noncompliance costs the District millions of dollars
“ADA is an 800-pound gorilla,” Michael Simmons, director for risk management for Riverside Community College District, said wondering who the Americans with Disabilities Act compliance officer was going to be at the Facilities ADA Corrections Team meeting March 10. ADA concerns have plagued RCCD for years and have cost the district millions of dollars since 2009.
FACT is an advisory committee created by Chancellor Michael Burke in response to pending litigation. The lawsuit was filed in the Riverside Superior Court against RCCD in 2013 for ADA noncompliance. Many details of the litigation are still not being discussed publicly, being exempt from the Ralph M. Brown Act and California Public Records Act. However, they become public record once the case closes.
The FACT team is being led by Simmons and was created to assist in removing the barriers presented to students and help maintain ADA compliance throughout the RCCD facilities.
The litigation produced a document containing 194 pages of ADA deficiencies at the Riverside City College campus alone according to Charlie Zacharias, RCC student representative on the FACT team.
“It was the result of not one, but two industry expert architects: One for the plaintiff’s side and one for the defense side,” Simmons said. “(They) basically get together and start to compare notes … we are still in the process of dealing with that.”
From the current litigation reports, 578 items needed improvement according to Scott Zwart, director of facilities, maintenance and operations.
“Have you got any ADA experts?” Simmons asked during the meeting.
“Nope,” Zwart replied.
New handicap parking spaces, updating elevators and a renovation of the Landis Theater are all on the list of improvements that FACT is putting together to bring the Riverside campus up to ADA code.
Another issue brought up during the FACT meeting was the lack of a recognized ADA compliance officer.
“By law we have to have one, but we don’t,” Ruth Adams, RCCD general counsel, said.
Simmons countered mentioning that the responsibility lies with Diversity and Human Resources.
ADA compliance is not a new topic to RCCD, with issues popping up since at least 2009.
On February 24, 2009, the Board of Trustees for RCCD approved a $481,780 contract with the engineering firm Psomas to conduct accessibility surveys and prepare an ADA transition plan to bring the District facilities up to compliance with the ADA, California Building Code and the Division of State Architect compliance. The Board approved another $75,000 to the Psomas contract, bringing the total up to $556,780 on January 26, 2010.
Through the surveys, Psomas identified 23,165 ADA deficiencies. Of that number, 10,711 were being addressed by other projects. Phase I of the plan was set to address another 4,704 deficiencies, while 7,750 deficiencies remained for future projects.
Psomas proposed to the Board a $39,594,553 5-year construction plan to bring the district up to compliance and on September 21, 2010 the Board approved $6.3 million dollars using District Measure C unrestricted local funding for the use of Phase I of the project.
On July 23, 2010 further revisions and stricter regulations were made to the ADA text that went into effect on March 15, 2011. The new regulations applied to any new constructions made after that date.
“The [ADA] transition plan was only a snapshot,” Sherry Stone, emergency planning and preparedness coordinator, said during the FACT meeting. This statement was echoed by Simmons stating that identifying barriers for disabled persons should be an ongoing process.
On April 15, 2014, a notice of completion was filed for Phase I of the ADA transition plan mostly according to its original design, despite the revisions that had been made to the law.
The Sept. 16, 2014 board committee minutes stated that $500,000 from a Physical Plant and Instructional Support grant was set aside for “ADA litigation remediation”.
FACT is now fighting time to get their list of improvements approved by the Division of State Architect by the end of the fiscal year at the end of July. At that point, access to money from a one-time grant disappears, according to Stone. After the list of work is approved by the DSA, the District can begin the process for bidding for contractors.
The scope of FACT also goes outside of the litigation addressing Braille signage concerns at Moreno Valley College, a project that could cost the district in the range of six figures according to Norm Godin, vice president of Business Services at Moreno Valley College.
ADA compliance is an ongoing issue according to Simmons and FACT will be taking up further projects in the future.
“We want to make sure we’re available to all students … and learn from nuances and decisions from past projects,” Stone said. “I’m not a fan of repeating past mistakes.”