The City of Williamsport and local advocacy groups have reached a settlement agreement which includes a $55,000 payout and upgrades to make City Hall accessible to individuals with disabilities.
The settlement agreement, which was approved by both the City of Williamsport and the Center for Independent Living of North Central Pennsylvania, is one of the final steps of a lawsuit that was filed against the city by the Center for Independent Living in July, 2020.
The lawsuit alleges that the city government has not provided adequate accessibility for individuals who are disabled to public meetings, offices and city services.
In the settlement agreement, which has been sent to U.S. Middle District Judge Matthew Brann for final approval, the city is required to pay the Center for Independent Living and ADAPT, North Central Pennsylvania $55,000 in compensatory damages and “to construct an accessible ramp at City Hall’s main Fourth Street entrance, ensure that the elevator is accessible, and provide emergency fire alarms which the deaf and hard of hearing can perceive.”
A work plan is required to be created by the city within a year of the agreement’s approval and a licensed architect who is trained in ADA compliance must be placed on retainer, according to the agreement.
City Council approved the settlement agreement during a special meeting Wednesday evening, however it includes no admission of guilt or violation on the part of the city. Mayor Derek Slaughter declined to comment until after the court’s approval by Brann.
Misty Dion, CEO of the Center for Independent Living and ADAPT North Central Pennsylvania, called the agreement a “landmark for civil rights” in the region.
The agreement is “a long overdue victory for the Disability Community and the beginning of a more inclusive Williamsport,” Dion said.
The settlement comes after years of complaints to city officials by advocacy groups or individuals with disabilities about the poor access to the building.
A historic fixture in Williamsport, City Hall was built in 1891. After the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990 and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, upgrades weren’t made to the building to make it ADA accessible, according to Dion and the lawsuit.
A 2020 report by the City Hall Building Ad Hoc Committee estimated that a wheelchair accessible ramp would cost $150,000, upgrades to the bathrooms would cost $250,000 and a replacement elevator would cost $220,000. These costs were estimated based on a 2017 constructure firm’s assessment.
A wheelchair ramp currently is located at the rear of the building and requires that visitors enter the building through the police department and an officer must be present to open the door for them.
In the past, the city has considered moving out of the building, potentially into the River Valley Trade and Transit II building, however the ad hoc committee recently recommended against it, due to excess costs.