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Demystifying ADA for Renovations and Redevelopment

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a scary beast for many folks that have to interact with it. Architects, developers, and building owners often have a decent handle on working with ADA for new construction but can get really thrown off trying to figure out how to correctly apply its requirements to renovations of existing buildings. We’ve seen countless times where misunderstood and misinterpreted requirements killed potential renovations of existing buildings. These missed opportunities are particularly painful when it comes to main street buildings, leaving unnecessary dead zones in what should be an active streetscape.

There are several ADA core concepts to understand to overcome these hurdles and help existing buildings and places achieve their full potential. One of the biggest hurdles is addressed by the technical concept of disproportionality. This concept has always been included in ADA, but the 2010 version is explicit in the cost caps of improvements required for renovations relative to applicable project costs. The term applicable costs is a really, really big deal. ADA offers specific guidance to understand what project costs apply towards this cap and what do not. Our presentation walks through this delineation in detail. With this information, we updated a functional form for the City of Atlanta to use with building permit submissions several years ago. We also helped to put together a set of supplemental instructions to fill out this form. This form is based upon Federal/DOJ guidance and is a useful template for other places beyond Atlanta.

Another key point that we love to stress is that there are a range of extra allowances for handling ADA within historic buildings. You actually have more leeway to address ADA requirements in these buildings than you would in non-historic situations. If the building is not listed individually as historic, having a local historic district can provide additional justification for alternate accommodation measures harder to utilize in non-historic buildings.

We put the following presentation together to help de-mystify ADA and existing buildings. While our presentation is not an official government document, we did pull extensively from supplemental information provided by the Department of Justice. We also want to give a big shout out to Steven Jones, Senior ADA Architect with the Georgia State Financing and Investment Commission. Steven’s job is to help answer questions related to ADA for projects occurring in the state of Georgia. Steven was gracious enough to review the presentation and help us tweak some finer points here and there to make sure we didn’t stretch or misstate any key points. He’s helped us on countless ADA questions over the years and we truly appreciate all his assistance.

We’re committing to helping make our existing places vibrant and inclusive. ADA was never meant to be a barrier to that end, it just wants to make sure that existing buildings accommodate a broad range of users to the maximum extent feasible. Understanding exactly what this term means is the key to success in your next renovation project!

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