Can’t Get A Lift No More

By Austin Regan

With the advent of the 2014 Code, all renovations to prior Code buildings must fully follow the handicap regulations found in Chapter 11 of the current Code (AC 28-101.4.3).

BC 1101.3 provides special provisions for prior Code buildings. The provisions are not so special since there are only a few instances where handicap compliance is not required. The Code states:

Exception. The provisions of this chapter are not applicable to:

1. Ordinary repairs.

2. R-3 occupancies in buildings with first occupancy on or before March 13, 1991.

3. R-3 occupancies in buildings with first occupancy after March 13, 1991, and originally constructed in a single structure with fewer than 4 dwelling or sleeping units.”

We are involved in many projects where factory buildings are being changed to other commercial uses. BC 1101.3.1 (1) states that when the predominant use changes, Chapter 11 must be applied:

“1. To the entire building, as if the building were hereafter erected,where a change is made in the main use or dominant occupancy of such building.”

While this requirement is not really surprising, designers are being caught off guard by the fact that Chapter 11 no longer allows certain solutions commonly used to address changes in level in existing structures. Namely, the ability to use HC lifts is severely limited. Since the building whose predominant use changed is to be considered hereafter erected, it is considered new construction. Below is BC1109.7 which states that lifts cannot be part of an accessible route except as indicated.

§28.2-1109.7 Lifts. Platform (wheelchair) lifts shall not be a part of a required accessible route in new construction except as indicated in Items 1 through 9. Platform (wheelchair) lifts shall be installed in accordance with BC Chapter 30 of this code, Section 410 (Platform Lifts) of ICC A117.1 and ASME A18.1. Platform (wheelchair) lifts are permitted to be part of a required accessible route in new construction as follows:

1. An accessible route to a performing area and speaker platforms in Group A occupancies.

2. An accessible route to wheelchair spaces required to comply with the wheelchair space dispersion requirements of Sections 28.2-1108.2.2 through 28.2-1108.2.6.

3. An accessible route to spaces that are not open to the general public with an occupant load of not more than five.

4. An accessible route as permitted in Section 28.2-1107.2.5 within a dwelling or sleeping unit.

5. An interior accessible route to jury boxes and witness stands; raised courtroom stations including judges’ benches, clerks’ stations, bailiffs’ stations, deputy clerks’ stations and court reporters’ stations; and to depressed areas such as the well of the court.

6. An accessible route where existing exterior site constraints make use of a ramp or elevator infeasible as determined by the commissioner pursuant to the rules of the department.

7. An accessible route to load and unload areas serving amusement rides.

8. An accessible route to play components or soft contained play structures.

9. An accessible route to team or player seating areas serving areas of sport activity.

The exceptions allowed are very limited in nature. If the condition you are trying to resolve does not fit one of the exceptions, then the only possible recourse to have a HC lift accepted is appealing to the Mayor’s Office for People with Physical Disabilities.

BC 1101.3.5 spells out the reasons why a waiver may be entertained, with economic burden and physical impossibility the most frequent reasons cited. Economic burden is normally not entertained when a developer is pouring millions of dollars into a building conversion. Almost anything is physically possible when the economic factor is off the table.

Many of these old factory buildings are large with multiple street frontages that may be at different grades. Old loading docks or special conditions specific to the former factory use may also create floor elevation changes within the building that can only be solved by the use of an elevator. Even LULA elevators which have restrictions to the overall rise and the number of levels they can serve are not always allowed.  BC 1109.6.1.1 states that LULAs can only be used in prior Code buildings where the total floor area of the building is less than 10,000 SF. Most of the buildings being converted have single floor plates greater than 10,000 SF.

The restrictions on the use of HC lifts must be considered early on in the design phase for existing buildings being converted as there is no guarantee a waiver can be obtained to allow their use.