Re: ADA Compliance - Americans with Disabilities Act
From: Berrins (
Date: Sun, 15 Apr 2001 23:07:49 -0600 (MDT)
In a message dated 4/12/01 4:58:43 PM, emccourt [at] writes:

<< I?m interested in what experiences cohousing communities have had in the 
designation of their common house as a ?public building?.

Was your common house designated as a ?public building"?

What were the criteria on which this designation was based?

Do you have any idea how much cost was added to the common house to come into 
compliance with ADA as a result of the ?public building? designation?

Is your building one-level or two?

Do you have an elevator?

I?m especially interested in California.

Thanks. >>

In Massachusetts, there is one set of building codes, but each city or town 
building inspector seems to have a lot of leeway in how they interpret the 
codes.  Hence, some cohousing groups were able to build their common house as 
non-public buildings (Pioneer in Amherst and Island on Martha's Vinyard), 
while our building inspector (Northampton) insisted we build it to public 
building standards.

This added a lot to the cost and placed strict limitations on design 
elements.  Any obviously public door has to be handicapped accessable and all 
activities in the building have to be handicapped accessable as well. We had 
to put in a ramp to the main door (we probably would have anyway).  This also 
meant we had to design the building to accomodate all activites (except 
laundry, for some odd reason) on the main floor until we can put in a lift to 
the basement (which we will do eventually- about $15,000 for the lift alone). 
 Any unduplicated use of the second floor (except for a mezzanine) would 
require us to put in an elevator (for about $50,000).  It's an uninsulated 
attic now; we'll probably just build it out as storage at some point in the 
future, although it is framed out for a future mezzanine.  Just to clarify 
things: we can put an activity in the basement or on the second floor, as 
long as the same activity is available on the first floor; this means the 
teen room, exercise room, sauna and crafts room in the basement will all have 
to wait for the lift.

Someone estimated that our Common House cost in the tens of thousands of 
dollars extra to meet these requirements- maybe 40,000 to 50,000 more? (I'm 
not sure about that figure).  The cost went into much more solid construction 
to support a lot of people, cast iron plumbing instead of plastic, an 
accesable bathroom, a thicker wall and fire doors (with those small grated 
windows and metal framing) around the guest rooms to meet fire code, fire 
doors in the hallways and at the top or bottom of stairs (that either have to 
stay closed or be held open by magnetic locks that automatically close in 
case of a fire), and all the exposed wood in the basement had to be covered 
up by drywall, not to mention a doubled-up drywall ceiling in the basement. 
And there's probably more I don't know about.

The drywalled ceilings in the base also meant planning the future uses in the 
basement so during construction we could install lighting, electricity, water 
and heat to those rooms we can't yet use until we put in the loft!

The reasons for designating it public seem clear to the inspector- a lot of 
non-residents will be using it, including staying in the guest rooms, and it 
is designed to hold up to 100 or so people, many more than the total number 
of residents.  Never mind that we may never have 100 people there; it could 
happen eventually, and that was enough to make the inspector call it a public 
building.  Our city inspector is known to be relatively strict, but all codes 
are written for public safety in mind, so he is actually trying to prevent 
people from building unsafe buildings.  I can't fault him for that.

And now that it's built, I'm glad we had to build it sturdier and safer.  I 
was in the basement during a party when a lot or people were dancing, and I 
could almost wee the floor shake- and that was with the extra support!  There 
are a lot of ugly parts, especially the fire doors and windows, red-lit exit 
signs over a lot of the doorways and so on, but I'm use to them now.  Maybe 
I'm just trying to feel better, but overall I actually like that we had to 
build it to public building codes- we have a safer building that will last a 
long time and is highly accessable.

    Roger Berman
    Pathways Cohousing
    Northampton, MA

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