LUMBERTON — The U.S. Justice Department has announced the signing of a settlement agreement with Robeson County that calls for the county to bring all of its facilities into compliance with the American Disabilities Act.
The signing of the agreement is part of the Justice Department’s celebration of the 25th anniversary of the ADA’s creation, according to a statement from the Justice Department.
“The agreement is part of Project Civic Access, the department’s wide-ranging initiative to ensure that cities, towns and counties throughout the country comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act,” the statement says. “As part of the PCA initiative, Justice Department staff survey state and local government facilities, services and programs in communities across the country to identify what is needed to comply with the ADA.”
Robeson County Manager Ricky Harris said that the county was randomly selected by the Justice Department to determine if all requirements of the ADA are being met. He said the department’s survey of county facilities and programs was not initiated by any individual or group complaint.
“I’m not surprised that with the age of some of our buildings we are not meeting all requirements,” said Harris. “We have three years to make the improvements. We don’t know what the total cost will be. We will try to work the cost of the upgrades into our annual budget when we can.”
Under the agreement, the county will remove barriers to accessibility in government office buildings, libraries, recreation centers, community centers, polling places, parks and courts. Modifications will also have to be made at police departments and the Sheriff’s Office.
Wendy Chavis, director of the county’s parks and recreation department, has been assigned to oversee the improvements recommended by the Justice Department. Chavis said that she has been working with a representative of the Justice Department for the past eight months to identify any violations.
“We have a whole lot of violations, but so do many other county’s across the country,” Chavis said. “Many of the violations cited in the study are old and already have been corrected. Some of the violations were in buildings that no longer house county offices.”
According to Chavis, the first major modification will be to signage. As an example, she said that all restroom signs have to be written in braille so they can be read by those who are visually impaired.
“This is a very major project,” Chavis said. “We will probably start the first of next month to correct some of the major violations and bring everything into compliance.”
Chavis was appointed the county’s American Disabilities Act coordinator by the county commissioners on July 21. At the same time, Dixon Ivey, who oversees the county’s Planning and Zoning Department, was appointed to serve as the required independent licensed architect for the compliance project. Ivey must act independently to determine and certify that any alterations, additions, or modifications meet the requirement of the federal law.
Chavis said Thursday that Leroy Scott, director of public buildings; Shelton Hill, director of the Southeastern Area Transit System; and Jason King, Robeson County’s assistant manager, are working closely with her to correct any ADA violations.
Bob Shiles can be reached at 910-416-5165.