Smith County is seeking a variance from the state about an American Disabilities Act violation within the jail expansion project at its Low Risk Facility.
Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation inspectors found a violation on Feb. 24, 2013, and had not received verification of corrective measures.
The urinal rim in the lone public men’s restroom inside the new jail lobby is at 24 inches where 17 to 19 inches is required.
Robert Posey, Architectural Barriers Compliance manager for the state agency, said the county had 270 days to correct the violation and that the next step would involve enforcement including possible fines.
County Judge Joel Baker sent a letter to the state agency’s Compliance Division requesting a variance for the lone violation.
A sticking point for the county is that the violation might not have been reported under 2012 accessibility standards. Construction of the bathroom fell under criteria established in 1994 through 2011.
Architect and Senior Project Manager Halden Tally of HDR Architecture called the state’s request to lower the urinal’s lip legitimate but hopes the state approves a variance.
Tally said the 2012 accessibility code requires the lip to be at the required height when there is not another toilet available. There is a handicap accessible toilet in the bathroom, he said.
Baker said he hopes to receive a variance. Changes would require removing tile and re-plumbing the fixture and cost thousands of dollars.
“I just don’t see the logic in the changes,” he said. “I just hope the state sees that our side makes sense and allows a waiver.”
Posey was not aware of the request from Baker at the time of the interview but said the situation regarding the 1994 and 2012 accessibility standards is similar to expecting a reprieve from receiving a speeding ticket in a 55-mile zone where the speed limit is lowered to 45 the next week.
Commissioner Jeff Warr views the violation as an infraction noted by an overzealous government agency. He said the violation should be a reminder to other government agencies, including county departments that monitor the public, that enforcement should be based on good, customer-friendly judgment and air on the side of common sense.
“If it can happen to us, it can happen to anyone,” he said. “Enforcements like these cost people and businesses real dollars and I hope in our case the state sides with us, but it’s a wake-up call.”