The federal Department of Health and Human Services is investigating a complaint that the county’s Department of Social Services headquarters on Nott Street violates the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The county received notice of the complaint about two weeks ago, said County Attorney Chris Gardner.
“We responded that we have dealt with 95 percent of the issues raised by moving into a new facility on or by Dec. 1,” he said.
Jason Plank, who is disabled and receives DSS benefits, filed the complaint against the county in January.
“I filed with the Department of Health and Human Services after state courts refused to uphold my basic civil rights,” Plank said. “They cannot operate in that realm; it is not handicapped accessible.”
A spokesman for the federal department said he could not comment on current or potential investigations.
County officials have long acknowledged the building is not accessible to the handicapped and does not offer proper accommodations, Gardner said. As an interim solution, DSS staff members meet prospective clients with handicaps in their homes, or those clients can meet with staff at another DSS location that is handicapped accessible, he said.
The Nott Street building is a former school dating to 1875; it houses approximately 80 county staff members and the DSS administrative and child support units. Staff members see between 60 and 75 clients daily. The building lacks elevators, ramps and handicapped-accessible rest rooms.
Gardner said the county would have to spend more than $1 million to make the building accessible to the handicapped and “we’d still be stuck with a bad building.” He said the county addressed the building’s problems prior to receiving the complaint; it plans to relocate DSS staff and offices from Nott Street to a building at 797 Broadway.
The county Legislature in December approved a 20-year lease on the Broadway building with owner the Galesi Group. The lease begins in January 2009 and will cost the county approximately $16 million over its term. The county can purchase the Broadway building after 10 years, Gardner said.
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