Handicap mandate worries pool operators
CAPITAL REGION Only about 10 percent of visitors to the Holiday Inn in Saratoga Springs use the hotel’s indoor and outdoor pools. But a new federal requirement would make the hotel install permanent handicap lifts in both pools — lifts that Cindy Hollowood, the hotel’s general manager, estimates would only be used about twice a year.
Hollowood said she would rather purchase a single, portable lift that could be moved between the indoor and outdoor pools, which are about 25 feet apart. The lifts are expensive, she said, and she would like to be able to remove the equipment when not in use. She has written a letter to the federal government asking for clarification of what is entailed under the new rule, and doesn’t plan to acquire a permanent lift until she’s told she must.
Among pool owners, the new regulation is a source of controversy, and confusion.
Throughout the country, hotels and other entities that manage swimming pools, such as municipalities and non-profit organizations, are scrambling to obtain the permanent lifts, and seeking more information about what is required under the new law. The requirement also applies to wading pools and spas.
“This is the number one issue for the hotel industry,” said Hollowood, who chairs the New York State Hospitality & Tourism Association’s board of directors. She said she didn’t believe the law should apply to small businesses at all.
The original deadline for installing the lifts was March 15, but the U.S. Department of Justice extended it for 60 days and established a 16-day comment period on a possible six-month extension “in order to allow additional time to address misunderstandings regarding compliance with these [Americans with Disabilities Act] requirements.”
Permanent pool lifts are not cheap, costing between $3,000 and $6,000.
The new rule was announced in 2010 by President Barack Obama as part of the revised regulations for the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, which prohibits discrimination based on disability.
Hollowood said that she also objects to a new rule that would require other swimmers to exit a pool when a lift is in use.
“I can understand why they would want to make that accommodation, but it discriminates against the other bathers,” she said.
She said that she’s committed to accommodating disabled guests, but that she hasn’t seen much of a demand for a permanent lift. In her 30 years running the hotel, no guest has ever asked for one.
There is an exception to the ADA requirement: Pools that feature “sloped entry,” such as wave pools, do not need to install a handicap lift.
Gary McCarthy, the mayor of Schenectady, said that the city will be acquiring lifts for three of its four pools — the Front Street, Quackenbush and Hillhurst pools. The pool in Central Park does not require one a permanent lift, he said, because it has sloped entry.
For non-profits, the handicapped lifts can be a big expense.
The Boys & Girls Club of Schenectady learned about the new regulation a couple of weeks ago, through its national arm, the Boys & Girls Club of America.
“These regulations are catching a lot of us off guard,” said Shane Bargy, executive director of the Schenectady clubs. It has two pools, at Camp Lovejoy, a summer camp in Knox, and at the Rotterdam Clubhouse on Curry Road, which was built about 40 years ago.
Bargy said that pools are expensive to run, and that unfunded mandates don’t make it any easier. He said he is seeking clarification on what the new regulations require, and whether seasonal pools, such as the one at Camp Lovejoy, are required to install the lifts. “We had hoped some old pools would be grandfathered in, but that’s not the case,” he said. And there might not be enough space for a permanent lift at Rotterdam Clubhouse. “Is the new law going to require us to knock down a wall?” he said.
The Capital District YMCA has pool lifts at most of its full-service branches, according to spokeswoman Erin Breslin, but will be acquiring four new lifts in order to comply with the new regulation, and upgrading some of the existing lifts.
“We try to be sensitive to the needs of all members,” Breslin said.
Ilene Leverence, aquatics director for the Saratoga Regional YMCA, said the pool at the Saratoga Springs branch acquired a portable lift when it opened five years ago, and will be looking to purchase a new lift by 2013 to comply with the new regulation. She said that because the YMCA already has a lift, the federal government is giving it more time to upgrade its equipment.
“If we didn’t have a lift, we’d absolutely be buying one right now,” she said.
Leverence said there are a number of swimmers who use the portable regularly, including a woman in a wheelchair and a man with two prosthetic legs. “It’s for anyone who can’t navigate those stairs,” she said.
The town of Clifton Park has three public pools. Each pool is outfitted with stairs, but not lifts.
Myla Kramer, director of parks and recreation for the town, said that the town will install a lift at the Barney Road pool this year, and phase in lifts at the other two pools, Locust Lane and Country Knolls.
The Barney Road lift will cost about $3,000, Kramer said.
“We’re phasing the lift in for various reasons,” Kramer said. “It is a big cost. Municipal pools are an asset, but they are expensive to run. We think the lifts are a great idea. We try to make everything accessible to all residents. We’re happy to do this, and we’re glad we’re able to phase it in.”
Peter Brancato, a spokesman for the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation & Historic Preservation, said that the state has ordered a pool for Victoria Pool at Spa State Park, and plans to have it installed by June 23, when the pool opens for the season.
“It’s a federal regulation, and we have to comply,” Brancato said. The other pool at Spa State Park, Peerless Pool, has a sloped entry and doesn’t require a lift.
Hollowood said that the hotel industry is hoping for a reprieve.
Federal legislation has been introduced that, if passed, would provide a one-year delay for the pool lift requirement, allow the use of portable lifts, allow the sharing of lifts between pools and protect hotel owners from lawsuits during the delay period.