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Jacksonville debates courthouse problem while spending your tax dollars
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Jacksonville debates courthouse problem while spending your tax dollars

Jacksonville debates courthouse problem while spending your tax dollars
Photo Credit: Stephanie Brown

Jacksonville debates courthouse problem while spending your tax dollars

We’re learned about yet another big bill coming from the new Duval County Courthouse.

The City and the contractor Turner Construction are still disputing whether a number of doors around the courthouse are ADA compliant.  It’s something that has kept the courthouse from gaining a permanent certificate of occupancy since it opened seven months ago, and moreover, could prove to be a problem for people trying to move around the building.

Public Works Director Jim Robinson tells me they decided not to wait any longer for a solution.

“Enough’s enough, we’re gunna jump to action,” he says.

The city will pay up to $600,000 dollars to make those disputed doors automatic with a push button that would open the door.  On Friday we will get a better idea of that exact bill because we will find out the exact number of doors that will get the automation.  The current estimate stands between 100 and 200 doors, at an estimated cost of $3,000 each.

Turner maintains that the doors are up to code. The city has taken the ADA compliance concern to the Department of Justice, which Robinson says they have an open line of communication with because of ADA compliance questions on most buildings the city works with.  I obtained guidance sent from the DOJ to the city on the issue, which doesn’t give a clear direction about whether the doors are in fact in compliance.  It does, however, raise the option of the alternative the city has chosen to pursue: “one easy way to ensure that persons with disabilities can open the doors is to install automatic openers,” it said.

Robinson says going down this path- making the courthouse “clearly, without a doubt accessible”- doesn’t mean the city is absolving Turner of any claims against them right now, including whether the doors were compliant and how much of these additional costs they should shoulder.

“There will be continued discussion with Turner about it,” he says.

He couldn’t project how long that discussion could take, however, meaning there is no way to tell if/when the city will get its money back.  Right now they plan to take the money from contingency funding for the courthouse project.

 

This is the guidance sent from DOJ to Jacksonville General Counsel Cindy Laquidara:

“As you know we did not review the courthouse as part of our ADA review, so any advice we give you must be considered as technical assistance only, not any approval or disapproval of the doors in the courthouse. 

You have described the doors at issue as fire doors and want to know if the 5 pound opening force requirement applies.  As we stated during our last conference call on November 19, 2012, with David D'Agata, Tom Goldsbury, Dave Schneider, Beth Meyer, Mack Blanton and Tim Horkan, the ADA standards do not provide a specific number for the opening force of a fire door.  Instead, Section 404.2.9 of the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design provides that “Fire doors shall have a minimum opening force allowable by the appropriate administrative authority.”  “Administrative authority” is defined as “[a] governmental agency that adopts and enforces regulations guidelines for the design, construction, or alteration of buildings and facilities.”  2010 Standards 106.5.  DOJ cannot opine on what minimum opening force your relevant administrative authority allows – it may be 5 pounds, or it may be more or less.  All we can say is that for fire doors, the 2010 ADA standards require you to use the minimum opening force allowed by the appropriate administrative authority, whatever that may be.  The 5 pound force figure provided in Section 404.2.9 of the 2010 Standards applies to “a door or gate other than fire doors.”

In addition to the City’s obligation to build new facilities according to the ADA standards, the City is obligated to provide program access under Title II. Whatever program the City is operating behind those doors must be accessible to people with disabilities.  We don’t have enough information on the programs you operate in the courthouse to opine on what program access would require here, but one easy way to ensure that persons with disabilities can open the doors is to install automatic door openers.  But it’s up to the City to decide on how you will operate the program under Title II.

We really do understand your situation in dealing with your contractor.

I hope this helps.”

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