2014-08-14 / Front Page

Elevator Begins to Move

By Barry Bridges

The city will soon know its available options in rectifying the issues being caused by the small elevator at City Hall.

At their regular session on Wednesday, Aug. 13, Newport City Councilors gave unanimous approval to a contract that funds an analysis of the different ways to make second-floor council chambers handicapped accessible.

The supplemental agreement for $19,870 expands upon a contract awarded in 2013 to Robinson Green Beretta Corp. (RGB) of Providence, which was originally retained to provide building condition assessment services at several city properties. The most recent action will streamline facility improvement plans associated with City Hall into one effort.

Attention turned to the elevator after a June 4 opinion from the state Attorney General’s office concluded that the city is in violation of Rhode Island’s Open Meeting Law (OMA) because the elevator is too small to allow handicapped individuals to attend municipal meetings.

The city was previously aware of the elevator’s shortcomings. Several years ago, the Rhode Island Governor’s Commission on Disabilities found that it did not meet the minimum dimensional requirements of the federal Americans with Disabilities Act. Access to council meetings was thereafter made available at the police station through video conferencing equipment and a sound system.

However, in responding to a complaint filed by a Newport resident, Rhode Island Special Assistant Attorney General Malena Lopez Mora determined that the remote arrangement is not legally sufficient to satisfy state law provisions, specifically the OMA.

Mora wrote that “the OMA requires that ‘the meeting location [be] accessible to and usable by all persons with disabilities’” and that accommodations should be made to “permit a person with a disability to physically attend a public meeting.”

“City Council must make alternative arrangements to ensure compliance,” Mora said.

With the possibility that a court could impose civil fines or void any actions taken at meetings held in violation of the OMA, the City Council and other municipal panels have conducted business at alternate accessible locations. The council has most recently been convening at Pell Elementary School.

In its work proposal for the supplemental contract, RGB stated that it will visit City Hall to “perform a review of the existing facility to determine a functional, cost-effective location or placement for the elevator within or adjacent to the facility.”

Newport Director of Public Services William Riccio previously advised Newport This Week that the general choices are to enlarge the existing shaft and keep the elevator in the same location; construct a new elevator inside the building; or build an addition to City Hall that would incorporate an elevator that is up to specifications.

Consistent with those comments, RGB explained that it will “measure the shaft and the adjacent spaces to verify existing conditions.” Following the creation of a digital floor plan, “RGB will verify that a new elevator can be retrofitted in the existing shaft. A potential location within the current footprint where an elevator could fit will also be considered. A third option is to attach an elevator shaft to the existing structure.”

The company also said that “the options will be evaluated not only on the basis of probable cost and time, but also relative to potential dust, noise and other effects on city employees. These effects during construction need to be weighed and mitigated throughout the process, beginning with planning and analysis.”

Among its deliverables, RGB promises to provide a map of the existing floor plan; a description of the existing options; a matrix to help the city determine the best choice; renderings of the proposed construction, if on the exterior of the building; and probable costs.

If all goes as planned, the analysis and cost estimates could be ready within 10 business days of RGB’s authorization to commence work.

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