The Building is brand new but I can’t get in!

This is a story of systems change in the Pikes Peak region that has been years in the making.  For 25 years, Pikes Peak Regional Building Department (PPRBD) has refused to review construction plans for exterior path of travel access compliance with the International Building Code and the Americans with Disability Act.  PPRBD is the quasi-governmental entity that checks proposed commercial construction plans for Colorado Springs, El Paso County, Monument, Manitou, Green Mountain Falls, Fountain, Woodland Park, and Palmer Lake. PPRBD makes sure construction complies with all sorts of building codes as well as interior disability access, such as accessible doors, bathrooms, hallways, emergency signals, etc. – but not the exterior path of travel from the sidewalk, through the parking lot, to the front/back entrances.  This is a story of systems change in the Pikes Peak region that has been years in the making.  For 25 years, Pikes Peak Regional Building Department (PPRBD) has refused to review construction plans for exterior path of travel access compliance with the International Building Code and the Americans with Disability Act.  PPRBD is the quasi-governmental entity that checks proposed commercial construction plans for Colorado Springs, El Paso County, Monument, Manitou, Green Mountain Falls, Fountain, Woodland Park, and Palmer Lake. PPRBD makes sure construction complies with all sorts of building codes as well as interior disability access, such as accessible doors, bathrooms, hallways, emergency signals, etc. – but not the exterior path of travel from the sidewalk, through the parking lot, to the front/back entrances.
The consequence of this refusal is that there are quite a number of buildings in our area that are perfectly accessible on the inside, but if you use a mobility device, you cannot get in. There are barriers (steps, poorly constructed ramps, poles and street furniture in the path of travel) that keep you out…of a brand new building. This is illegal and discriminatory. PPRBD says that exterior review is not a part of their work contract with the municipalities who contract with them.  In fact, it is PPRBD’s perspective that each of the municipalities should be doing exterior review so that the look of buildings in that town meet the town’s requirement.  It seems that PPRBD has confused aesthetics with access.  Unfortunately, until last summer the municipalities named above didn’t know they were supposed to be doing this review.  This is a recipe for disaster for building owners and persons with mobility limitations, and makes our region ripe for drive by access lawsuits.
After watching Springs Rescue Mission build a completely new building on South Nevada with no front door access, just steps from the bus stop, The IC stepped in. Fortunately, Springs Rescue Mission resolved the issue, however, Drew Wills, our board chair who happens to use a wheelchair, Pat Going, retired director of Rocky Mountain ADA Center, and I spent several frustrating months with PPRBD trying to get them to take on the exterior path review.  When it became apparent that we were going to have to go to each of the municipalities one by one, we started with the City of Colorado Springs as some 70% of PPRBD’s review of commercial plans is for Colorado Springs.  With the help of their Planning Director, Peter Wysoki, and Tim Siebert, President of Home Builders Association, we developed a process that has been operating since last fall.  Its simplicity will surprise you…it did us!

Creating Access for All!

Each municipality has a planning commission or staff person who receives the first drawings for a commercial project.  There is a checklist for what must be submitted so that the designer makes a complete package and the plan checker doesn’t forget to check.  We added that there must be a drawing that explicitly shows the accessible exterior path of travel. We also added language to the checklist that states the owner of the property is the sole person responsible for ensuring that the building and exterior access is accessible; not the city.  In addition, if the owner determines the building cannot be designed accessibly, then a written justification must be submitted and the city will keep it on file, in case of litigation later.  Now, building owners and designers cannot say 27 years after the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, “I didn’t know!”
I am really pleased to report that on April 11, the City of Colorado Springs finalized City Ordinance 17-38 that makes this process legal and mandatory for those submitting commercial building projects in Colorado Springs! We hope this will be an acceptable model for the other municipalities to follow.  This summer, we will be visiting with each city to explain the ordinance and ask their planning department to adopt it as well.  We also will share the City’s new accessible parking ordinance and the Department of Transportation’s updated guidance on curb ramp cuts.  Hopefully in the near future, all three access issues will be handled in the same way across the Pikes Peak region.   Hats off to the City of Colorado Springs for stepping up as a leader in solving this problem!