(Editor's Note: This is the second in a two-week series exploring existing infrastructure and future needs in the Cleveland and …
(Editor's Note: This is the second in a two-week series exploring existing infrastructure and future needs in the Cleveland and Bradley County community).
From buildings and access points to roadways and sidewalks, Bradley County officials have been working on a survey to make sure the county meets requirements related to the Americans with Disabilities Act and accessibility.
Bradley County’s ADA coordinator, Lindsay Hathcock, has been working on the county’s Self-Evaluation & Transition Plan “at least 14 to 16 months,” he said.
Hathcock, who is also executive assistant to Bradley County Mayor D. Gary Davis, said the plan was presented to the state on Oct. 30. He hopes that Bradley County will have very few problems in achieving the ADA goals that it has sent to the state.
“I am optimistic,” Hathcock said. “But no one knows how the state is going to enforce this.”
As coordinator for all of Bradley County, Hathcock said the county owns and maintains 123 buildings, and has 70 departments. In addition, Bradley County has more than 760 miles of roads.
Hathcock said Sandra Knight, the county’s road superintendent, offered help “and I gladly accepted her help” on the road and neighborhood portions of the survey. His main contact throughout the process has been Tina Bishop, special projects coordinator with the Bradley County Road Department.
“I am grateful for their help,” Hathcock said.
Bishop made a presentation to the Bradley County Commission about the Road Department’s portion of the county’s Self-Evaluation & Transition Plan in September. She noted the Road Department’s information is only a portion of this countywide project.
Bishop added Bradley County’s responsibility related to the ADA and accessibility is most concerned with Title II of the ADA, which addresses the requirements of public agencies.
Part of the importance of the survey is that the plan must be filed before communities can re-sign for Transportation Improvement Program certification.
“Cities and counties that do not respond to developing the required transition plan by December 2019, will be placed on hold and will not be able to apply for grants through TDOT,” Bishop told commissioners. “State aid funding is also at jeopardy until the transition plan is in place. This affects anything operated or governed by Bradley County.”
Speaking from the Road Department’s perspective, in September Bishop said Bradley County has about 30 subdivisions with 36.8 miles of sidewalks ranging from three to four feet wide. TDOT requirements to meet ADA requirements specify a five-foot-wide sidewalk. Bishop said the Road Department is also responsible for 12 traffic signals in the county.
Giving an example of addressing non-compliance, Bishop said in Benwood subdivision off Old Parksville Road there are 3.6 miles of sidewalks, .6 miles of driveway crossing, and .1 miles of missing segments, totaling 4.2 miles. Bishop said the cost estimate is $812,681.50 "to demo, replace (sidewalks that don’t meet ADA requirements) and add the required crosswalks."
"Sidewalks are not a requirement, but an amenity," Bishop said.
However, when sidewalks are installed in the county's right-of-way, "it becomes the Road Department's," she added.
Speaking to the Cleveland Daily Banner for this article, Hathcock said the ADA ensures people have equal access to facilities, which is important.
In his own experience, Hathcock’s son uses a wheelchair, and the young man has been faced with not being able to visit every corner of Callaway Gardens, for example, because not all of the nature paths are wheelchair accessible.
County-owned facilities may not be fully handicapped accessible now, but part of the survey is an inventory of ADA-compliant and non-compliant areas. By knowing where the problems are, a plan can be made to improve them.
One building that has been brought fully into compliance is the Bradley County Courthouse, but even that building would have fallen short if not for an unfortunate event: Hathcock said after the September 2017 fire at the Courthouse, the non-code compliant building was brought up to date. He said electrical, HVAC, plumbing and ADA facilities were brought up to code as part of the restoration of the building.
Now, all offices in the Courthouse are ADA-compliant; the offices each have a wheelchair height counter, and the building’s exterior doors have been outfitted with automatic openers. Hathcock credited Troy Spence, Bradley County’s Emergency Management Agency director, with overseeing the Courthouse restoration, and many of the upgrades.
Hathcock noted a year before the fire, the city of Cleveland helped with a ramp and wheelchair access on the north side of the Courthouse.
“It was on the sidewalk which the city owns,” he said.
When considering the ADA-compliant facility most people think of first — handicapped parking spaces — Hathcock said the space doesn’t need to only be marked with blue paint, it also must have the wheelchair logo on the ground. In addition, the parking spaces must have extra width and length, and a sign in front of the space designating it for handicapped parking.
Hathcock said that is just one example of the many steps it can take to meet one regulation.
While much of the work to compile the study has been tedious, Hathcock said he was pleasantly surprised at times by the number of county department heads who had already turned in their paperwork ahead of deadline, like Bradley County Health Department Director Brittany Hopkins.
“They are currently complying and working to improve the building they have,” Hathcock said.
The health department was built in 1980 and remodeling is underway to put handrails in the bathrooms, and improve lighting, among other measures. Hathcock said they hope to finish that soon.
In addition, the Bradley County Sheriff’s Office and the Trustee’s Office have done well, he said.
“Nobody wants to deny access, especially Bradley County and especially me,” Hathcock said.
But to provide complete compliance by “ever-changing state standards is difficult for all 95 counties,” he added.
With industry and growth of Bradley County, Hathcock believes the state expects this county to be a leader in this statewide process.
Also, Hathcock acknowledged it may be cheaper to demolish old county-owned buildings and construct new ones to meet updated regulations, but that is not the plan here.
“We want to meet compliance, but we want a level playing field and a set structure,” he said, adding regulations are changing, creating a new standard to try to meet.
With Bradley County’s Self-Evaluation & Transition Plan already submitted to the state, Hathcock is relieved but not relaxed about the project. He said December 2019 is when the transition plan must be completed for all counties seeking TIP certification; after those plans are evaluated, he expects to hear from the state whether the plan has been accepted.
Hathcock said departments in the courthouse are already in compliance with ADA regulations, but Bradley County will have to address areas of noncompliance. He has no idea of the cost associated with that, but anticipates the priority will be on the level of need and the cost to fix deficiencies.
For example: As of May, costs for concrete work regarding sidewalks were quoted at $2.50 per square foot for demo and disposal; $5 per square foot to construct; and $650 for each curb ramp. Bishop said $7,235,980 is the "very worst case" if all the sidewalks in Bradley County have to be removed and replaced.
"I'm only talking about it from the Road Department (standpoint)," Bishop told commissioners in September, adding in government you often hear "we don't have the money to do this. Well, with this you don't have a choice."
Bishop said she has proposed to the Tennessee Department of Transportation a 30-year timeline to bring the sidewalks throughout the county into compliance. She added sidewalks have to be ADA-compliant whether they are in the right of way or not.
From sidewalk access to services available inside county-owned buildings, Hathcock said he understands from the state “there will be no extra time because of cost.” In addition, he knows department heads, elected officials and the county mayor “want to provide the best we can at a cost we can all afford.”
“I hope we’re at least at a B-plus,” Hathcock said of how he would score Bradley County’s Self-Evaluation & Transition Plan. “There will always be room for improvement.”
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