San Juan County has received $750,000 to inject into its yearslong effort to make its public facilities accessible to everyone, particularly those with mobility impairments.
The county government plans to use the funding, provided through federal grants, to make 22 facilities 100% compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. It is the latest effort to respond to thousands of noncompliance issues identified in a 2016 report by the U.S. Department of Justice.
“We’ve made great progress. Of course, funding dictates our ability to accomplish all the projects on the list,” said County Manager Mike Stark. “We feel really good about this award because it gets us that much closer to having 100% of our facilities ADA compliant.”
The grant-funded improvements will focus on external areas from parking lots to front entrances, like improving parking, signage, sloping on ramps, entrance doors and more. The 22 buildings listed in a county news release include a district court, an administration building, Head Start, several fire stations and the Salmon Ruins Museum. Construction is planned to begin early 2021.
The money, announced this week, is part of almost $10 million in federal Community Development Block Grants disbursed by the state to rural New Mexico communities.
“San Juan County has made it a priority to seek funding sources for vital projects through nontraditional means,” said Jack Fortner, San Juan County commission chairman, in a news release. “Through this funding, we have scored another win to improve access to government services in a manner that makes capital improvement funds available for other crucial projects.”
The county’s effort is similar to the city of Durango’s ADA accessibility projects, like improving sidewalk access ramps. Durango city councilors even spent the day in wheelchairs earlier this year to better understand transportation challenges experienced daily by mobility-impaired community members.
While San Juan County officials haven’t done a similar exercise, Stark said personal experience changes a person’s perspective as it relates to making sure the county has public facilities that are 100% ADA compliant.
The improvement project was also a long time coming, he said.
In 2016, the DOJ completed an audit that noted 8,500 deficits identified in 112 site reports. That’s compared to 85,000 elements that complied with access requirements, the audit said. The audit came about after San Juan County agreed on a settlement in 2015 to improve ADA compliance in the area.
Since then, the county has addressed many of the issues in the audit. It continues to gather public input on accessibility during annual hearings about infrastructure and block grant projects. It also consults regularly with other groups, like the San Juan Center for Independence, Stark said.
“We want to make sure we have accessible facilities and accessible programs in San Juan County,” he said.