Last-minute changes to make University of Hawaii at Hilo’s new Student Services Building wheelchair accessible delayed the facility’s opening by about a year and racked up just under $230,000 in additional expenses.
In a Friday email, Director of University Relations Jerry Chang explained that a total of 23 doors in the newly constructed building had to be replaced after changes were made to federal Americans with Disabilities Act guidelines.
“The changes had to do with the weight of the doors and the pressure that has to be applied to open them,” he wrote. “The standard for accessibility is that if a person were in a wheelchair, had a physical disability or otherwise mobility impaired, that she/he could still enter the offices.”
Construction of the building occurred during a period when ADA accessibility guidelines were modified, Chang said. Before construction began, plans and technical specifications had been submitted to the state Disability and Communication Access Board for review and approval. The doors were found to be compliant with the 1991 guidelines, which were applicable at the time.
“It was unfortunate that the Federal ADA requirements for the doors were changed in the midst of the building’s construction, therefore making the new doors non-compliant. When it was discovered that the opening door force required was in excess of 5 pounds, we could choose to change the doors to the new 2011 ADA Guidelines or leave them as compliant under the 1991 ADA Guidelines which were in effect when the building was built, and as allowed under the rules governing construction,” Chang wrote.
“Since UH Hilo has students with disabilities, it was judged that the doors would make their access to the building difficult. A decision was made to be proactive and lean on the side of caution and replace the doors, to be in complete compliance with the new ADA regulations.”
The additional costs associated with the changes were “covered under provisions of the construction contract,” he said.
Chang added that staffers will begin moving into offices on the second floor beginning Thursday, followed by staffers on the first floor.
“The building will be 95 percent occupied by the start of fall semester,” he wrote.
The building was originally planned to open in the fall of 2013, but the ADA compliance changes caused the delay, according to Luoluo Hong, the former vice chancellor for Student Affairs.
“We were all very disappointed that our student services offices were not able to occupy the building as of Fall 2013,” she wrote in an email earlier this year.
The $18 million, 35,000-square-foot, three-story building replaces the old Student Services Building, which will serve as the new home of the College of Business and Economics. Administrators billed the $18 million structure as a “one-stop shop to complete all the activities needed to become a full-fledged student at UH-Hilo and complete registration for classes under one roof,” according to a press release issued at the building’s January 2011 groundbreaking ceremony.
In addition to the vice chancellor’s office, located on the west wing of the third floor, the building will also house the college’s Admissions Office, Office of the Registrar, Financial Aid Services, Cashier’s Office, the Advising Center, Career Development Services, Disability Services, Counseling Services, Women’s Center, Health Promotion Program, the Dean of Students Office and other student support staff.
Email Colin M. Stewart at email@example.com.