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An escalating problem on campus

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Posted: Wednesday, February 5, 2014 9:53 pm

Small elevator sizes among continuing accessibility issues on campus.

Bryan Williamson knows there are myriad Americans with Disabilities Act compliance shortfalls across the Oregon State University campus.

“It’s a big issue and it’s not OK,” Williamson said.

Nearly three years ago, an individual in a wheelchair who attended an Accessible University Advisory Committee meeting on the second floor could not exit the elevator in the newly completed Linus Pauling Science Center.

“The person attending the meeting got stuck,” said Bryan Williamson, Associated Students of Oregon State University director of accessibility affairs. “They got stuck on the way up.”

With a doorway width of nearly 3.5 feet, the public elevator dimensions are roughly 6.5 feet across and 5 feet wide. According to the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 compliance guidelines, elevators must “provide space for wheelchair users to enter the car, maneuver within reach of controls, and exit from the car.”

The individual who attended the meeting could not be reached for comment.

Though campus elevators function properly and undergo routine maintenance, some still fail to comply with the ADA.

ASOSU representatives and members of the Able Student Alliance complained about accessibility on campus. Administrators continue to struggle with acquiring funds for maintenance costs required to upgrade or install elevators in the necessary areas.

Joe Majeski, maintenance manager at facilities services, said one of the greater challenges with campus elevators is that many were constructed with smaller dimensions because they were retrofitted inside of older buildings.

Regardless, Majeski said the elevators do their job.

“They still give our ADA community the access they need,” Majeski said.

The OSU campus currently has more than 100 working elevators. To assure each stays operational and safe, three mechanics maintain the lifts throughout campus. One focuses primarily on residence halls while the other two manage various classroom buildings.

Theresa Moore, a help desk employee at the Memorial Union, said facilities services were quick to respond to one recent elevator shutdown.

Moore, who’s blind and also uses an electric wheelchair, said the ramps around campus are some of the scariest pathways for her to maneuver.

Specifically, she said one of the ramps near the entrance of the MU was among the hardest to use if she had to rely on a manual wheelchair.

“I couldn’t get up it,” Moore said. “My arms aren’t strong enough.”

In a recent elevator shutdown, mechanics George Allen and Chase Jorgensen repaired a broken belt on the hydraulic lift system on an MU elevator.

According to Allen, the elevator was designed to move to the next floor possible before shutting down. After this point, repairs take place.

“The elevator did everything it’s supposed to do,” Allen said.

New elevator installations cost anywhere between $300,000 and $600,000. Currently, Fairbanks Hall, Gilmore Hall and Ballard Hall have no lifts installed.

Though the Kerr Administration Building was constructed in 1968, upgraded units were placed inside of the six-story office center nearly five years ago.

“When money is allowed, we do put in as many as we can with what we’ve been given,” Majeski said.

Pat Reser, chair of OSU’s board of trustees, said acquiring funds for these costs becomes difficult since donors specify where the money goes. The same goes for funds obtained through OSU’s capital campaign over the years, which recently hit its $1 billion goal.

“Dr. Ray will be first to tell you our buildings are in great need of maintenance,” Reser said. “And that’s an issue he’s taken up with the legislature, because there’s no bonding for upper maintenance.”

Reser said discussions continue as the university searches for greater maintenance solutions. 

“It’s very difficult to go out and raise money to fix things,” Reser said. “Everybody wants a new building.”

OSU President said it’s a matter of opening additional dialogue among donors and reaching out to the state in an effort to match funds needed for accessibility improvements.

“We try to encourage donors to give to (areas) like that as well,” Ray said. “It’s just very hard. That’s one reason we think maybe the state is the best place to go.”

Currently, OSU is in the process of seeking $10 million for accessibility from the state during the short legislative session in Salem.

Williamson, who questions the completeness of the college’s comprehensive accessibility plan, said OSU has made progress but has a long way to go toward its goals for accessibility.

“It’s going to take a heck of a lot more than $10 million to fix the issue,” Williamson said.

Though struggles continue, Moore said she believes the college is doing everything it possibly can for the moment.

“They’re becoming more aware (of the issues) every day,” she said.

Sean Bassinger

Higher education reporter

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