The accounting office space in Columbia County’s new Health and Human Services Building meets not only federal standards for accessibility, but also the expressed wishes of county workers, the architect who designed the HHS Building said Thursday.

If the space seems cramped, Ron Locast said, it’s most likely because a ninth work station was added to a space that was supposed to have just eight work stations.

Two and a half months after the County Board’s Finance Committee toured the accounting offices in the new building at 111 E. Mullett St., the County Board’s Ad Hoc Building Committee included, on its agenda, a tour of their own.

The accounting offices are the only Health and Human Services function currently operating in the new building, which is serving as the county’s temporary court location while the courthouse at 400 DeWitt St. is being remodeled.

At Thursday’s Ad Hoc Building Committee meeting, County Comptroller Lois Schepp reiterated what she’d said to the Finance Committee in October:

  • The workspaces are too small for employees to work comfortably and efficiently.
  • The walkways are so narrow, a person using a wheelchair would likely have difficulty maneuvering in the space.
  • The overall space in the offices was reduced between when it was designed and when it was constructed – a contention that Locast disputed.

But Locast, of the Madison design firm Potter Lawson, said his review of plans and specifications, going back to 2015, show that the open office area is basically of the same footprint that county officials had agreed on.

What’s different, he said, is the additional work station in the same floor space.

During the tour, Locast measured work stations, corridors and corners.

The narrowest corridor was 38 inches wide – two inches wider than required by ADA. That same corridor also has space to accommodate a 5-foot turning radius, in compliance with ADA, he said.

Steve Klaven, senior project manager for the Madison construction firm J.H. Findorff and Sons, said the building would have been denied an occupancy permit if any of its office areas were out of compliance with ADA.

Committee member Fred Teitgen of the town of Dekorra said that, as far as he can see, the approvals of the design and building were done properly, and the space complies with accessibility requirements.

Nevertheless, Teitgen said, employees have raised concerns about the difficulty of maneuvering chairs in the cubicles, which have U-shaped work surfaces.

Schepp said she brought the issue up with the Ad Hoc Building Committee not to assign blame, but to find solutions.

“I’d like the work space to be more comfortable,” she said. “I don’t want people stressed out by being there in very little space.”

And even if the walkways comply with ADA standards, she said, “I don’t believe anyone in a wheelchair could fit in there.”

Schepp said the most immediate concern is the maneuvering room in the workspaces.

Locast said one of the easiest possible solutions might be to reconfigure the cubicles, either by substituting the U-shaped desks for L-shaped workspace, or by reducing the depth of the work surfaces by about 6 inches, to make it easier to move around in the cubicles. The possibility of reconfiguring some storage space also was broached.

Committee Chairman Kirk Konkel of Portage said he doesn’t yet know what, if anything, the committee will do in response to the space concerns.

But Konkel did have one question, for which no one had an answer: If modifications are made in the HHS accounting office, “Who’s going to pay for it?”

Follow Lyn Jerde on Twitter @LynJerde

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