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OSF plans to make bricks more accessible

Courtyard out of compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, according to lawsuit
 Posted: 2:00 AM October 20, 2012

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival has a plan "on the horizon" to make its sloping brick courtyard more accessible to those with disabilities, said communications manager Amy Richard.

The signature courtyard is one of several locations at the festival that is out of compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, according to a federal lawsuit brought against OSF and the city of Ashland.

The complaint was filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Medford by Ashland resident Philip Lang, who has long warned OSF and the Ashland City Council about the dangers of the courtyard, which has the potential to be slippery.

"We are keenly aware of the challenges patrons and company members face because of our steep hillside location," Richard said in an email. "Although we do not see this as a legal issue, we do believe we have a moral obligation."

According to OSF's 2009-2013 long-range plan, the courtyard was scheduled to be redesigned this year. OSF has no specific new timeline, Richard said.

"It really has been a huge issue, and challenge," she said. "We hired architects to develop a plan four years ago. "… The problem was money and resources and priorities."

OSF estimated the cost of the courtyard redesign at $800,000 in its long-range plan.

Richard said a new, 64,500-square-foot production building planned in Talent will come before the courtyard redesign. The building will cost about $6 million and is slated for completion in August 2013.

OSF declined to release the renderings of its 2008 courtyard design because "they will undoubtedly undergo significant changes," Richard said in the email, citing Bill Rauch's hiring as artistic director in 2007, the move of the box office across the street and changes in Green Show programming.

"We would certainly want to look at whether the current designs accommodate the increased usage and mobility needs," she said.

The festival hired Ashland-based Covey Pardee Landscape Architects in 2008 to develop a new design, and renderings of what the firm came up with can be found at www.coveypardee.com/work/planning-design.html.

The festival planned to start replacing its courtyard in 2007, but decided staff and leadership changes at that time combined with a torn-up courtyard would create too much chaos, OSF officials said then.

The start time was pushed back to fall 2008, but the project never started because of budget problems.

Covey Pardee was in the process of drawing construction plans for the courtyard project when OSF put the project on hold, said Greg Covey, one of the firm's principal architects.

In addition to OSF's failure to replace the courtyard with a more slip-resistant material, Lang's complaint lists the slope percentages of 16 locations around the OSF campus, including multiple areas of the brick courtyard surrounding the Green Show stage, and various access ramps inside the Elizabethan Stage and in front of the New Theatre.

All but one of the locations, which were measured by an independent engineer, were listed as being over the ADA-required 5 percent slope for wheelchair access paths, said Lang's Ashland attorney, Tom Dimitre.

Because OSF is defined as a "public accommodation" by the disabilities act, it is required to meet ADA accessibly specifications in buildings and areas constructed after 1993 or modified after 1992.

Portions of the courtyard have been altered since then, Richard said, by regular maintenance ensuring the bricks stay level.

Lang is not asking for any money, Dimitre said. "We're just asking that it be fixed."

"Just go out there and look around, and imagine if you were in a wheelchair, you can see how challenging it would be to get around," Dimitre said. "It's all too steep."

The City Council voted in March 2007 to send OSF a letter asking that the courtyard replacement project be complete before the start of the 2008 season.

"It's not only about the courtyard "… This is about making all of OSF's facilities accessible for folks with disabilities," Dimitre said. "If you're a disabled person in a wheelchair, there is really no access to OSF."

The city owns most of the land on which OSF sits and leases it to the nonprofit organization, which is why it is included in the lawsuit, Dimitre said.

The festival had not been served its summons Friday and was not prepared to comment on the intricacies of the complaint, Richard said.

City Attorney David Lohman said the city hadn't been served yet, either. He said he was aware of the lawsuit, but would not comment.

Reach reporter Sam Wheeler at 541-499-1470 or email swheeler@dailytidings.com.


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