If the University doesn’t modify the renovation plans for Michigan Stadium, it will face a legal battle with the Michigan Paralyzed Veterans Association, a representative from the group said.
Richard Bernstein, a lawyer representing the veterans group, said the University’s plans, which include adding skyboxes, are not in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
If the University doesn’t change the plans, the group has vowed it will sue the University.
“If these plans are not changed, there will be litigation before the first shovel hits the ground,” said Bernstein, who is also a political science lecturer at the University. “We’re ready to roll.”
In November, the group threatened the University with a lawsuit challenging the proposed renovations that would add luxury boxes to Michigan Stadium. At the time, the University and the group said they were working together. Now, the veterans association has intensified its rhetoric.
The group said the proposal violates the Americans with Disabilities Act because the plan allocates an insufficient number of seats for wheelchair users and places them all in one location.
The University also appears to have changed its argument against the possible lawsuit.
At the November regents meeting, University General Counsel Marvin Krislov said the renovations only constituted a “repair,” not an alteration. Because Michigan Stadium was built in the 1927 – 63 years before the ADA was passed – the University has not been required to upgrade the stadium to make it compliant with ADA standards. The ADA requires that the University bring the stadium up to code if any substantial alterations are made.
In an interview on Wednesday, though, University spokeswoman Kelly Cunningham argued that the $226 million renovations would comply with the ADA, not that the project didn’t need to comply.
While Bernstein said the University is violating federal law by disregarding the ADA’s guidelines for building stadiums, Cunningham said the University uses the Uniform Federal Accessibility Standards as its building code.
She said the stadium’s design limits where more wheelchair accessible seats can be added, but the University is still looking at ways to add more.
Even so, the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights sent a letter in November to Gloria Hage, the University’s deputy general counsel, that expressed concerns about the stadium’s accessibility for wheelchair users.
“We believe that the number and location of wheelchair spaces the University contemplates adding are inadequate and will not meet compliance obligations,” the letter said.
It also said the project may be considered a “substantial alteration” under federal standards, which would require the University to make other parts of the stadium handicap accessible as well.
Michael Harris, the executive director of Michigan Paralyzed Veterans of America, said the group has been advocating that the University build a stadium similar to Notre Dame’s, which provides 17 different seating locations for wheelchair users and more than 400 wheelchair-accessible seats.
“OSU is accessible, Notre Dame is accessible and the Rose Bowl is accessible,” Bernstein said. “Everybody has become accessible. President Coleman is actively saying she will not create an accessible stadium.”
Cunningham, said the University is deeply concerned about providing wheelchair-accessible seating.
She said the expanded stadium will offer 282 seats for wheelchair users, more than triple the 90 seats the stadium currently provides.
Bernstein said the ADA requires the University to designate 1 percent of seats – at different prices and in different locations – available for wheelchair users. For a stadium with a capacity exceeding 108,000, that means more than 1,000 seats must be reserved for the disabled.
Cunningham disagreed with his interpretation. She said the 1 percent figure applied not to the existing seats, but only to the new seats that are part of the stadium’s expansion.
Last month, the veterans group also asked the state Legislature to withhold the $320 million the University receives in state appropriations until complied with the ADA’s standards for wheelchair accessibility, but the Legislature didn’t act on the group’s request.
The University Board of Regents approved the schematic designs for the stadium renovations in November. The regents must vote on the project one more time before construction begins. No date has been set for the vote, which would officially allocate funds for the renovation. The construction is slated for completion in August 2010.