|By Jeffrey B. Cohen, The Hartford Courant, Conn.|
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Jul. 11, 2005 - Fifteen handicapped accessible bathrooms at the soon-to-open Marriott Hartford Downtown have been demolished and plans are underway to make them easier for guests in wheelchairs to use, state officials said last week.
"We're pushing hard," said Mark Wolman, an executive with the developer, Waterford Group LLC, who added that the hotel will open in August. "We will be done for the opening."
In February, the state Office of Protection and Advocacy for Persons with Disabilities denied an application by Wolman's company to waive the section of the state code that mandates that the distance between the wall on one side of the toilet and the edge of the sink on the other be a minimum of 60 inches.
Fifteen of the Marriott's 17 handicapped accessible rooms did not meet that standard, so Wolman's company appealed -- arguing that a state-hired building plan reviewer contracted by the building inspector's office did not catch the problem months back when it could have been more easily resolved.
In May, that appeal was rejected, and the hotel's owners were directed to redesign the bathrooms.
"I wish we would have known earlier," said Wolman, who wouldn't comment on the cost of the work, but did say that its scope was wide-ranging.
"It really impacts nearly every trade," Wolman said, adding that 30 rooms need work because non-handicapped accessible rooms that neighbor the 15 affected rooms also must be worked on. "You've got the bathroom basically [demolished], then new doors, plumbing gets rerouted, the light fixtures get changed, the fire alarm system gets relocated, the duct work gets relocated ... and finally, flooring, carpet and tile."
In some rooms, the redesign has meant eliminating a closet, adding an Americans with Disabilities Act-approved armoire and expanding the bathroom. In other rooms, the redesign has meant expanding the bathroom and changing some furniture to make the whole thing work, state and hotel officials said.
"We looked at the new set of drawings to make sure they comply," said Daniel Tierney, deputy state building inspector. "We approved the drawings and now they're [doing demolition] and starting to put the rooms back together."
"They were very cooperative in their changes," Tierney said of Wolman and his staff.
James D. McGaughey, executive director of the state Office of Protection and Advocacy for Persons with Disabilities, has argued that compliance with the state code was necessary and attainable -- to leave the bathrooms untouched would have made them impossible for many people to use and would have risked injury to those who tried, he said.
"The drawings they showed us looked like they were making a sincere effort, and I think it's ultimately going to work for everyone," he said.
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Copyright (c) 2005, The Hartford Courant, Conn.
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