McLennan County leaders found an alternative to bringing down and rebuilding the third-floor skywalk between the courthouse and the annex building to address one of a long list of Americans With Disabilities Act violations.
The skywalk’s slope makes the path noncompliant, but there is no way to fix that stretch because of the lack of space between the two buildings, said Waco attorney Mike Dixon, who represents McLennan County and its officeholders.
The solution, put simply, is to add a doorbell at an annex entrance that disabled people can use instead of going in the main entrance and crossing the skywalk, Dixon said. Moving between the buildings would require going outside.
The walkway is one of more than 350 ADA violations cited by the U.S. Department of Justice. A settlement to address the issues was reached in November, setting the clock for project completion.
The walkway must be fixed in 90 days, and 30 days already have passed, Dixon said.
Commissioner Kelly Snell raised concern because the company that was recommended to install the new system isn’t local.
Dixon emphasized again that the county is under a short time frame to get the job done.
County Judge Scott Felton made the motion to spend $5,432 for the Dallas company to install the new system. He followed the motion by saying that in the future, commissioners want to use local contractors as much as possible as long as the work can be done and the price is fair.
Bruce Thacker, with The Wallace Group Inc., said the solution to avoid replacing the skywalk is to add a high-performance or commercial-quality doorbell system at another entrance.
In October, commissioners approved hiring The Wallace Group Inc. as part of the U.S. Department of Justice’s settlement, which required them to retain an independent licensed architect to provide officials with reviews, certifications and other architectural services.
Thacker said signage is needed around the annex building to direct people to the door below the skywalk typically used by jurors. The doorbell, or buzzer, would send a wireless signal to three locations in the courthouse, requesting that someone let a visitor into that side of the building.
Thacker said he reached out to a local company first but got no response.
Dixon said the front entrance of the courthouse is the only secure entrance, with its metal detector and security personnel. A buzzer system would prevent the county from having to station security at a second entrance, he said.
“The cost savings are incalculable, as opposed to tearing down the skywalk and lowering it,” Dixon said.
County Auditor Stan Chambers said a budget amendment to pay for the system will have to be brought back before the court.
In late November, commissioners designated more than $22,600 to pay for 15 assistive listening devices for county courtrooms as part of the settlement agreement.
County leaders have not put a final price tag on total repair costs resulting from the settlement. Big-ticket items in need of repair include the McLennan County Courthouse and the Extraco Events Center fairgrounds, but the county has three years to address some of those projects.