McLennan County has spent almost $764,000 addressing Americans with Disabilities Act violations in the past few years, and with a deadline approaching this summer, the most involved projects remain to be done.
Much of the work so far to correct more than 350 violations identified in a settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice has been handled by county employees, County Attorney Mike Dixon said.
“We’ve saved quite a bit of money by using our own forces for a lot of the stuff,” Dixon said.
However, the most daunting projects still remain, he said.
The county has spent $763,820.78 addressing violations found during a surprise inspection of county buildings in 2011 and outlined in a settlement agreement the county reached with the DOJ four years later.
Dixon said most of the work that is “non-bricks and sticks” is complete.
The bigger projects, including work needed at the Bill Logue Juvenile Detention Center, the courthouse, and the fairgrounds, are in various stages of completion, Dixon said. Some are still being designed, and some are ready to be bid out to contractors, he said.
“This has been more difficult than we expected,” Dixon said. “Things don’t stay static in county government.”
A planned overhaul of the Extraco Events Center cut down on some of the work needed since many of the violations were found at fairgrounds facilities.
“One of the buildings where a lot of violations were noted is totally going away,” he said. “The outside bathrooms have already been knocked down.”
Plans for the footbridge connecting the courthouse with the courthouse annex have also evolved, Wallace Group project manager Bruce Thacker said. Officials initially said an intercom allowing visitors to access an alternative entrance would meet requirements, but their plan now calls for a wheelchair lift, Thacker said.
While the enclosed walkway is being worked on, the county also plans to add better lighting and heating and air conditioning. The Sheriff’s Office also did a threat assessment and requested that the number of windows be reduced, Thacker said. It is now lined with windows for almost its full length.
“We’re going to be busy. We have a lot to get under construction here in a very short time frame,” he said. “I think as Mike has indicated, we have accomplished a great deal since we started.”
County Administrator Dustin Chapman said the design, including the number of windows that will be lost, is not finalized. Since the skywalk is not original to the courthouse, the design does not have to be approved by the Texas Historical Commission. Other courthouse work was subject to commission approval.
Precinct 1 County Commissioner Kelly Snell said the project to fix the ADA violations is similar to an unfunded mandate. While the changes are necessary and important for all residents to have equal access, the short timeline to complete all the work puts an unfair immediate burden on the county budget, Snell said.
The county has not produced an estimate of the final cost for the work.
“I can see it being pretty significant,” Snell said.