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Mecklenburg County schools face $1.5 million retrofit cost to comply with ADA

SoVaNow.com / August 21, 2013
The Mecklenburg County School Board will seek out more information before it acts to bring the school division into compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), an undertaking that could cost $1.5 million simply to retrofit the two county high schools.

In October 2011, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) cited Bluestone and Park View High Schools for multiple violations of the ADA, with the federal agency determining that disabled students lack full access to the school facilities.

The citation came after the parent of a Mecklenburg County student complained to OCR about the county’s two high schools, which are more than 50 years old, project manager Ralph Mulleins told members of the School Board on Monday night.

For the past two years, said Mulleins, he has attempted to negotiate a voluntary compliance plan with the OCR. It was finally accepted on June 26, and at Monday’s meeting of school trustees, Mulleins presented a summarized version of the plan, along with the projected cost for bringing both high schools into compliance with the ADA — which he figured at around three-quarters of a million dollars per school.

Mulleins estimated the cost to install ramps, unisex restrooms, and special signs and space markings, alter the main entrance and public restrooms, and install handicapped accessible bleacher seating, a visual/audible warning system, grab bars on the entry doors, ADA compliant water fountains, sinks, cafeteria doors, and entry doors, and change the media center tables and the auto mechanics space at Bluestone High School will cost around $754,600.

The same work, plus installation of “unisex accessible” space in addition to a unisex restroom, and ADA seating, other than bleacher seating, at Park View High School would cost around $779,300.

Several items — such as including installing doors that swing both inwards and outward, installing signs and space markings, and installing special sinks —could be performed by the school district’s maintenance staff, Mulleins said. Other jobs, such as installing elevators, visual/audible warning systems, and building ramps between the buildings — will need to be contracted out.

Trustee Glenn Edwards expressed concern that Mulleins was already entering into contracts with vendors to perform the work without using a competitive bid process. While Mulleins said that was not the case, in his report Mulleins identified specific vendors and the project on which they would work, either by name or by the phrase “contracted vendor.” For example, Atlantic Construction was listed as the vendor for installation of visual/audible warning systems at both schools.

Edwards said, “As president of the Mecklenburg County Home Builders Association, I am already hearing complaints about this project, even before I knew the project existed. Let me assure you, this work will not be done without competitive bidding.”

Edwards also wanted to know if Mulleins had looked into whether all other schools in Region 8 are being held to the same standards, especially on school buildings that Edwards claimed were “grandfathered” — buildings that predate the passage of the ADA — and not required to comply with the act.

Mulleins could not answer the question, but offered to bring representatives with the OCR before the School Board so Edwards could get more direct answers to his questions.

“It is possible we will see a minimum of two reviews a year by OCR verifying we are making an effort to correct [ADA violations],” Mulleins said. Therefore, he asked the School Board to approve continued efforts to meet voluntary compliance plan without seeking additional money from the county.

Trustees did not vote on the matter.

In other business, the School Board approved a trip by the Bluestone High School Band to the Bahamas April 9-14. Band Director Ricky Allgood assured the trustees that the travel would not interfere with any SOL testing. Unfortunately, he explained, due to lack of funds the band program cannot pay for students to make the trip. Therefore, only those students who can afford to spend $750 will go to the Bahamas.

Trustees received a construction update on additions at Clarksville, Chase City and La Crosse Elementary schools. Clarksville Elementary’s project is only two weeks behind the original construction schedule, said Superintendent of Schools James Thornton, despite adverse weather conditions. He said he expects work to be completed in Clarksville later this fall.

Similar additions should be completed at both La Crosse and Chase City by “winter break,” Thornton said, adding that the maintenance staff would use the holiday respite to move classrooms into the new buildings and out of modulars that are being scrapped.

Mullein, who was asked to gather information about drug testing for students, presented his findings to the Board. Based upon discussions with other divisions which have already implemented a drug testing program and both local hospitals, Mullein asked trustees to approve an oral fluid (saliva) testing program that would be administered by an outside vendor, COE Management Group.

The vendor “not only helps us prepare our policy and procedures, they come on campus for training and certification of the athletic directors, nurses and administrators for administering the tests,” Mullein said. The cost for each test is $12.25, but if the school needs to verify a “positive result,” there is an added charge of $23.

For now, trustees are considering whether to approve testing for all students involved in sports and extracurricular activities such as band.

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Comments

As the ADA Construction Manager for Fairfax County Public Schools, I would like to point out that the so-called grandfather clause does not exist. All state and local government entities must make a plan to modify non-compliant facilities and work toward compliance with the ADA, under Title II of the ADA. It is a federal law. Contact the Mid-Atlantic ADA Center at 1-800-949-4232 for assistance in learning the requirements and planning for compliance!

Comments

It is clear that Mr. Edwards does not understand ADA compliance laws. Let the OCR come in and remind him about what happens when they do not comply. I would not hire Glen Edwards to do any construction with his attitude.

Comments

Mr. Edwards is just upset because his friends are not getting the contract. He needs to go.

Comments

Mecklenburg needs an ADA consultant to direct and oversee this project. To do otherwise will be an expensive error for the tax payers.


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