When nature calls, the restrooms at the District Attorney’s Office are easy to access for most people.
But for someone in a wheelchair, the design of the restrooms at the decades-old, county-owned building on Sandoval Street may force them to hold it in. The restroom doors (and the doors to the building itself) lack an automatic opener, and the narrow bathroom stall — at least in the men’s restroom — would seem to require dexterous maneuvering to reach the toilet.
That’s the reality right now. But the restrooms are poised for a renovation as part of an estimated $15 million plan by Santa Fe County to make a long list of government-owned facilities, from buildings to parks, more accessible to disabled people.
County commissioners Wednesday approved the first phase of a multiyear Americans with Disabilities Act Transition Plan. The first phase, which will cost nearly $2 million and touch different areas of the county, includes ADA upgrades at the DA’s Office, as well as at parks, community and senior centers, an open space arena, a solid waste transfer station, a public library and two fire stations.
Projects in the first phase range from installing handrails and signs to replacing drinking fountains and renovating restrooms.
“One of the priorities that we have here at Santa Fe County is making government more accessible to everyone, and this includes people with disabilities,” county spokeswoman Carmelina Hart said Thursday.
The improvements will be funded through a revenue bond, which Hart said displays the county’s commitment to make its buildings and facilities ADA compliant.
“There’s not a timeline associated with the completion of” the projects, she said. “But we are saying, ‘These are the projects in phase one that require the most attention, and this is where we’re going to start.’ ”
Santa Fe County, New Mexico’s third most populous, owns 14 parks and open spaces, 46 miles of trails, more than 6,000 acres of property and close to 1 million gross square feet of facilities.
“Construction of the majority of these facilities and roads was prior to the enactment of the 2010 Americans with Disabilities Act,” according to the plan, which assessed current conditions and identified needs for accessibility improvements.
Diego Demaya, director of ADA technical assistance with the Southwest ADA National Network, said governments face different levels of ADA compliance on their properties.
“New construction projects, they all have to be 100 percent accessible,” he said.
For renovations to existing buildings and facilities, only the altered parts have to be ADA compliant, he said.
Governments have to apply a “barrier removal standard” to existing buildings and facilities not undergoing any renovations, he said.
“That’s a much lower standard,” he said. “There, they just have to look to see how can they best modify the facility to make it generally accessible. They wouldn’t have to make all the entrances accessible. Maybe one entrance.”
The national network’s Southwest region includes New Mexico, which Demaya said is “very, very proactive” on ADA accessibility.
“For the most part, states try to comply with this because they want to welcome people, not exclude them from participation,” he said.
Follow Daniel J. Chacón on Twitter @danieljchacon.