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City Settles Von Braun Center Lawsuit, Pledges $1.2 Million in Handicap Upgrades

Steve Doyle May 29, 2010

Lee High School seniors file into the under-renovation Von Braun Center arena for Thursday's graduation ceremony. A legal settlement between the city and Access Now will greatly improve handicap access to the downtown entertainment center.

HUNTSVILLE, AL--A $1.2 million legal settlement approved by the Huntsville City Council on Thursday would greatly improve handicap access to the city-owned Von Braun Center.

The city will create dozens of new handicap parking spaces around the VBC, lower sinks, toilets and baby changing stations in restrooms, place Braille signs on elevators, improve wheelchair seating and provide "assistive listening systems" in the arena, concert hall, playhouse and exhibit halls.

City Attorney Peter Joffrion said the changes will be made as part of a massive VBC renovation project that began in November.

Ongoing construction is already addressing wheelchair access problems in the arena, concert hall and East and West halls of the downtown entertainment center.

But parts of the aging complex still don't comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. In March 2009, disabled Huntsville resident Willard Brooks and Florida-based Access Now sued the city in federal court to force further upgrades at the VBC.

Access Now's attorney, Ed Zwilling, said he's pleased with the settlement.

"It's going to be greatly improved," Zwilling said Thursday. "I would certainly hope that they'd never get another complaint about accessibility after the renovations are complete."

The 45-page legal settlement gives the city explicit instructions for how to make the VBC more handicap-friendly.

More parking is needed, including spaces for vans. Too-steep sidewalk ramps must be rebuilt. Some water fountains should be lowered for people in wheelchairs, and others raised for people who can't bend over.

One of the most visible improvements will be inside the concert hall, where seats directly in front of handicap seating areas will be removed.

Zwilling said concertgoers in wheelchairs have not been able to see the stage when people in front of them stood up. That shouldn't be a problem after the renovations, he said.

Joffrion said the city will borrow the $1.2 million needed for the improvements. The agreement, which passed unanimously, also calls for the city to pay Access Now's legal and consulting fees up to $80,000.

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