Disabled University students and staff already have a hard time getting to Boynton Health Service because of a lack of parking.
Facilities Management officials, however, said the University can’t afford to make access any easier.
They halted construction of elevators connecting Boynton with the new Riverbend Commons parking lot because the plan is too costly, officials said.
The shafts for these elevators have already been built.
The elevator proposal, which would provide direct access to Boynton from the ramp, was made by Boynton officials due to complaints from patients about limited accessibility and parking, said Boynton director Edward Ehlinger.
If direct access is not created, people will have to exit the ramp on Delaware Street and then travel down Washington Avenue to get to the Church Street entrance of the health center.
The proposal has troubled advocates for disabled students who argue accessibility will be hampered.
Boynton management said they were told the elevator plan is being discontinued not only because the Riverbend Commons project is over budgeted, but also in an effort to increase Coffman profits.
“They’ve said that one of the strategies to pay off the Coffman debt is to make people go through it, and this seems to be one of the guiding forces in this matter,” Ehlinger said.
Earl North, principal of Armlin-North Association, the firm hired to represent Facilities Management, said although paying off construction costs through Coffman profits is a goal, Facilities Management is still searching for other accessibility options.
“The challenge has always been the budget,” North said. “There are no available funds in the budget to provide that amenity.”
The elevators were part of the initial Riverbend Commons plan, and have only recently been referred to as an amenity by Armlin-North. To Boynton management, this reflects an issue of conflicting interests.
“The problem is that we have a disagreement on priorities,” said Dave Golden, Boynton director of public health, marketing, and program development. “We think this aspect is very important, but they have an overview of the plan which revolves around money.”
North said Facilities Management hopes to reach a compromise with Boynton management.
“We are looking for options that are less costly but still meet (Boynton administration’s) desires,” North said. “We do care about the needs of the disabled, which is why we have been candidly looking at options for literally months.”
Priscilla Meckley, assistant director of University Design and Construction Services, said adherence to the Americans with Disabilities Act is strictly enforced at the University.
“On every project we strive for equal access for all,” she said. “We want to make the new ramp equally accommodating and inviting to everyone.”
North said Disability Services reviews every campus construction project during design and after construction, and that Facilities Management and Disability Services are in constant consultation with each other.
Although Disability Services has been contacted about the plan, some members do not believe the needs of the disabled are always a priority.
“A lot of times when people are developing plans or putting up buildings, they don’t contact us,” said Roberta Juarez, a Disability Services Mobility specialist.
After the elevator shaft was built, Facilities Management officials told Boynton management they would have to pay an estimated $3 million for the elevators, Golden said.
The plan was rejected because Boynton management said it is unfair to require Boynton to fund the elevators. Boynton’s money comes almost exclusively from student fees.
After rejecting the proposal, Boynton management had a series of discussions with Facilities Management over possible alternatives.
Most recently, a plan was proposed to punch a hole through Boynton and create a ramp connecting it with the new parking ramp. Ehlinger said this plan will be refused due to potential difficulties.
Problems include unregulated traffic and a federal contract prohibiting altering the segment of the building where the ramp would be connected, Ehlinger said.
For many involved with the project, negotiations have only increased frustrations with the University.
“There is no solid plan in place to make accommodations for people with disabilities,” Golden said. “We don’t think the needs of the disabled are being adequately met.”
Jessica Thompson welcomes comments at [email protected]