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- NORTHWESTERN MANDATES ADA COMPLIANCE
Newsletter > March 2011 > "NORTHWESTERN MANDATES ADA COMPLIANCE"
NORTHWESTERN MANDATES ADA COMPLIANCE
Tim Burke, Manley Burke, email@example.com
Fraternities and sororities at Northwestern University are experiencing the complexities of operating out of houses owned by the University. There are 29 Greek houses on Northwestern’s campus. The University is pushing those organizations which occupy the houses to pay for bringing the houses into compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act.
If these houses were privately owned by each fraternity and sorority and located off-campus, it is very likely that they would be exempt from compliance with the ADA. (See November 2008 issue of Fraternal Law.) A recent article in the Daily Northwestern estimates that the cost at Northwestern could be above $1,000,000.00 per house to provide ramps, elevators and handicap accessible bathrooms and showers.
The chapters who occupy houses at Northwestern may have to make the difficult choice of finding the funds to do the ADA upgrades or to move off campus. The Daily Northwestern article quoted Bill Banis, the Vice President for Student Affairs at Northwestern, as saying “they know who they are, and they know the clock is ticking … if they are not going to be compliant with the terms of their lease, then the University is going to have to determine if they are viable for remaining at Northwestern.”
The Greek community has a different take on the situation.
“I don’t know of a single Greek house that is against ADA compliance,” said Kelly Brest van Kempen, president of the Chi Omega house corporation and also of Quadrangles, the consortium of Greek housing organizations at Northwestern. “We all want to be sure that our houses are completely accessible. The big question is how to pay for the necessary renovations. Each House Corporation Board has a discrete pool of money from which to draw for house maintenance, and the pool will vary in size depending on the number of residents it can sleep. A house with a maximum of 38 beds has a much smaller pool than a house with 65 beds, yet each is expected to spend approximately the same amount for the ADA upgrades to its university-owned house. The University, on the other hand, has an aggregate pool of funds from which to draw to make renovations to university-owned buildings.”
Plans for a joint ramp for neighboring houses Alpha Chi Omega and Delta Delta Delta are underway and the two house corporation boards are working together on the project. They will share the costs of construction, including the architect’s fees. Northwestern officials have indicated that they are willing to discuss the issues and explore options for financing the necessary improvements, which some houses will want to pursue, including the Chi Omega house corporation board.
Chi Omega is in a unique situation in that it is sharing an ADA ramp project with the University. The Chi Omega house adjoins a former sorority house that is being renovated as upper-class housing. Local ordinances require that any public access building in the city being renovated must meet all ADA requirements. The former sorority house falls into this category and the work must be completed by September 1 to accommodate incoming students. The most cost-effective and best architectural solution for the historically significant buildings is a shared ramp and raised patio between the two houses. The house corporation board has approved the plans and is waiting for a proposal from the University on sharing the costs.
Despite Vice-President Banis’s remarks, however, most Greek houses have until the end of their next 10-year lease renewal to comply with ADA requirements. For many houses, including Chi Omega, that deadline is well after 2020.
Fraternities and sororities can always better maintain their independence if they are on their own land and in their own building. But that is often not practical and leasing university accommodations is often a fallback solution. At the very least, in reviewing agreements with colleges and universities, it is critical that there be a full understanding of what obligations come with a lease with the university. Otherwise, it may turn out that what looked like a sweetheart deal with a university is not so attractive after all.
There is no question that every effort should be made to ensure that chapter houses are accessible, both to potential members and their families and guests, but full compliance with the requirements of the ADA can be extremely expensive, especially when trying to retrofit a building constructed long before the requirements of ADA applied.