More than 20 years after a deadline to make St. Paul parks accessible to people with disabilities, the city of St. Paul has put together a multimillion-dollar plan to rebuild a recreation center, replace entry doors and otherwise bring its parks system into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Though the department has made accessibility improvements to buildings and facilities for years, an ADA transition plan to identify all the modifications needed for compliance wasn’t approved until this year.
“We, I believe, ought to have had this plan by about 1992,” Deputy Parks and Recreation Director Kathy Korum told the Parks and Recreation Commission Thursday. “We didn’t, but we do now.”
The plan identifies 33 projects that will cost more than $150,000, plus staff time, to be completed between 2018 and 2025. They range from installing a $25 Braille elevator sign at North Dale Recreation Center to replacing automatic entry doors at the Como Visitor Center for $66,325.
The list also includes two large-scale projects that have been in the works for years: the $11 million rebuild of the 45-year-old Scheffer Recreation Center and the nearly $20 million renovation of the Como Zoo seal and sea lion exhibit.
The parks department is up for reaccreditation this year, a process that for the first time requires a Disabilities Act transition plan. That’s why the department is acting now, Korum said.
Staff members at each of the city’s recreation centers completed accessibility assessments last fall, and their findings were incorporated into the plan, Korum said. More facility assessments are planned for the spring and summer, and the plan will be updated accordingly.
“Now there’s a document to hold us accountable,” she said.
The Americans with Disabilities Act passed in 1990, and required all public entities with more than 50 employees to have transition plans in place by July 26, 1992, and bring facilities into compliance within a few years. Many agencies failed to do so, leaving them open to legal action. The law is typically enforced through complaints and litigation.
“In Minnesota and also across the country, municipalities and agencies are unaware,” said David Fenley, ADA director at the Minnesota Council on Disability. “And it’s always an awareness thing. There was a big push in the early ’90s and things kind of slipped through the cracks and people didn’t do stuff and it wasn’t assigned to a particular person to do it and stuff didn’t get done.”
The parks transition plan, which was produced last November and updated in January, says “the department’s ADA efforts were largely decentralized” and focused mainly on accommodations for individuals from 1991 until the late 1990s.
“Beginning in the late 1990s, our Design and Construction staff incorporated accessible building design standards even before laws required their implementation as new recreation centers were brought on line,” the document says. “During this time the department did not maintain a centralized transition plan.”
In 2006, parks staff started including the accessibility of play areas in annual audits. In 2013, they started assessing accessibility of parks facilities used as polling places. In 2017, they completed facility assessments across the system, including at all 25 recreation centers.
The city also stepped up its efforts around Disabilities Act compliance during that time, hiring an ADA coordinator and creating an ADA committee in 2009. The Department of Public Works created an ADA transition plan the same year, and updated it in 2016 after a complaint about inaccessible curb cuts.
The city’s Advisory Committee for People with Disabilities gave input on the parks transition plan and approved the current version in February. The Parks Commission approved the plan Thursday, and the City Council will have an opportunity to approve it as well.