NORTH ADAMS --The city has agreed to a settlement with U.S. Department of Justice, consenting to make some 300 alterations and upgrades to buildings, recreational fields and parks within the next three years in order to bring them into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The settlement, which was signed Sept. 19, is the result of an audit by the Department of Justice that was initiated in 2010, after a resident with mobility issues filed a complaint stating the city's police station's entrances are only accessible via stairs.
The agreement was reached under the department's Project Civil Access, an initiative that aims to ensure that cities, towns and counties throughout the country comply with ADA regulations.
"The city of North Adams is to be commended for its proactive commitment to ensuring that people with disabilities have full access to the city's facilities, programs, services and activities," Thomas E. Perez, assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division, said in a news release Wednesday.
Mayor Richard J. Alcombright said he expects to ask the City Council for a $250,000 borrowing order within the next month for the most immediate upgrades and modifications.
"Right now, we're trying to put together the best possible ‘guesstimate' for the stuff we need to do really quickly," he said Wednesday. "Most of it involves bathrooms -- raising or lowering toilets and changing
He said that the biggest challenge facing the city would be the city's Department of Public Safety building.
"It's going to require some thought and study, which we'll begin to tackle after Jan. 1," the mayor said. "I don't see how we can absorb the cost of and find a proper spot for a new building, which would most likely cost $12 million to $15 million. We're trying to think outside the box and find an existing place, which we could retrofit with cells and other items, to relocate the police station. We could keep the fire station and dispatch in the current building, which may be the solution."
Alcombright, along with Community Development Director Michael Nuvallie, spoke about the renovations needed at local fields and parks during Wednesday night's Parks and Recreation Com mission meeting, outlining a three-year plan that would bring issues at Noel Field and Alcombright athletic complexes into compliance.
"We're hoping to get a $568,000 Parkland Acquisition and Renovations for Communities (PARC) grant this year, which would allow us to do the ADA upgrades at Noel Field," the mayor said. "We need newly compliant basketball and tennis courts at the complex. We know there is a new women's basketball league, so there may be a critical need for two basketball courts there. We know serious tennis players play at the MCLA courts, so we could put in two courts."
Nuvallie explained that as part of the PARC grant application, the city is responsible for a 30 percent match in funds.
"We've been a little creative, leveraging $170,000 from our CDBG funds this year against the grant," he said. "That money will go toward the old bathrooms, directly behind the bleachers at Joe Wolfe Field, allowing us to put in handicap compliant bathrooms and get rid of some, if not all, of the Porta-johns at the field."
In addition to the bathrooms, the complex needs hard-surface meandering walkways that allow access to the different fields, Nuvallie said.
Alcombright said that whether or not the city receives the PARC grant, the city would at least be able to do upgrades to the bathrooms and other small items at the fields.
"We're also going to have to make changes to all of our public playgrounds," Alcombright said. "We need to eliminate the step-up edges around the playgrounds and add elements for kids with disabilities. We also have to add pathways across grassy areas."
The complete settlement can be found online at www.ada.gov/north_adams_pca/
To reach Jennifer Huberdeau, email