McLennan County has addressed a little more than half the Americans with Disabilities Act violations outlined in an agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice in 2015, at a cost of almost $660,000.

The county has almost 16 months left to finish the rest of its list, which includes some heavy construction projects.

The clock started ticking Nov. 16, 2015, for the county to correct the more than 350 problems cited in the Department of Justice settlement agreement, which included a timetable for work to finish. The county has until Nov. 15, 2018, to address every issue.

As county leaders wrap up discussions on the budget for fiscal year 2018, which starts Oct. 1, commissioners have included a placeholder that allows them to pay for the remaining projects despite the cost remaining unknown. The county has spent $659,546.26 to address violations so far, and bonds will cover part of the work.

The Department of Justice first identified compliance problems during a surprise inspection in 2011 and reached a settlement with the county four years later.

Correction projects range from adding wheelchair access and significant structural changes to relocating restroom signs or installing lighter doors.

Commissioners hired The Wallace Group to satisfy one term of the agreement, and the firm recently presented an update of completed and almost-completed projects.

Several privately owned buildings the county uses as polling locations were included in the list of ADA violations. Some were removed as vote centers because the cost of repairs was too steep, but commissioners agreed last week to spend $11,196 to make repairs at Lake Shore United Methodist Church and keep it as a vote center.

“All along the way throughout this project it’s been a case of us working with various county departments in order to arrive at sensible solutions to the ADA issues raised by the Department of Justice,” Wallace Group project manager Bruce Thacker said.

County Judge Scott Felton asked if there are any concerns the county would not meet the deadline for repairs.

Thacker said not at this time. However, much of the heavy construction is still left to be done, he said.

Some of the most significant work was needed at the Extraco Events Center. Because voters approved new county taxes in May for hotel stays and short-term vehicle rentals to pay for an overhaul of the fairgrounds, the ADA compliance work will be rolled into the newly approved projects.

Some other compliance projects:

  • Signs have been added for accessible entrances where signs were lacking.
  • Preliminary drawings are complete for building modifications at the Juvenile Detention facility.
  • Partial work has been completed at the courthouse. Modifications to first-floor restrooms and drinking foundations were completed, and assistive listening devices have been added to courtrooms. Counter heights and door clearance issues were addressed. Door opening pressures were adjusted where present hardware would allow. Issues with the fourth-floor grand jury room and law library are being resolved through the addition of a temporary courtroom. Design work is underway for a wheelchair lift to replace the third-floor ramp connecting the courthouse and annex. Accessible seating spaces in the commissioners courtroom have been added.
  • Corrections to the Harwell Detention Center’s lobby restrooms and booking area telephones have been completed.
  • The McLennan County Jail’s lobby restrooms and parking signage have been brought up to code.
  • All ADA-related work has been completed at Justice of the Peace offices in precincts 2, 3, and 5. Commissioners are considering an alternative location for the Precinct 4 office because the cost of repairs was deemed too high.
  • Restrooms on the second floor of the McLennan County Sheriff’s Office and the open office area have modified to meet requirements. Modifications to the transaction windows on the first floor are in progress.

Cassie L. Smith has covered county government for the Tribune-Herald since June 2014. She previously worked as a reporter for the Beaumont Enterprise and The Eagle in Bryan-College Station. Smith graduated from the University of Texas at Arlington.

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