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"Classroom Accessibility"
by Robert Gorleski

Modular, temporary, portable, and relocatable classrooms are all alternatives to conventional stick-built school buildings for elementary, secondary, and post secondary applications when districts are faced with increasing enrollment and budget restraints in areas that have high growth rates.

Temporary classrooms are a good solution for the short term until more permanent school buildings can be erected. In fact, the modular classrooms can be incorporated into industrialized modular units to form permanent elementary, secondary, and post secondary schools with the electrical, mechanical, plumbing and HVAC completely installed in the modular units, constructing a complete school on a permanent foundation.

Industrialized modular and modular classroom construction, however, must meet strict federal, state, and local guidelines. These guidelines include conformance to a national building, electrical, mechanical, and plumbing codes, plus functional requirements for the modular units.

Functional requirements are typically accessibility standards, which are derived from the federal standard, Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a civil rights law prohibiting discrimination of persons with disabilities, which provides laws and specifications of building elements for construction of public places, such as schools, so that students with disabilities have facilities that are readily accessible and usable. The ADA is a law only and is not to be used as a model code but a guideline.

For states and local building code enforcement agencies that have adopted model codes, such as the national building code, the ADA guidelines for accessibilities are incorporated into the model code using reference standards, such as the CABO/ANSI A117.1, Accessible and Usable Building Facilities, for attaining accessibility compliance.

Under the CABO/ANSI A117.1 standard, accessible and usable building facilities, such as modular classrooms, classrooms shall be provided with five components.

1. An Accessible Entrance on an Accessible Route

Each accessible entrance on an accessible route shall not have a walking surface slope greater than 1:20. The accessible clear width for 90 degree turns shall be 36" minimumRamp Accessible Classroom and when an obstruction is encountered, a minimum clear space of 42" x 48" is required. Ramps on accessible routes shall be a minimum of 36" with a slope not steeper than 1:12 and the ramp run rise shall be 30" maximum. The landing at ramps shall be as wide as the widest ramp leading to it and the landing length of 60" minimum clear. When the ramps change direction at landings, however, a 60" x 60" minimum landing is required. All ramps with a rise of 6" and a run greater than 72" shall have continuous handrails on both sides of the ramp at a 34" minimum and 38" maximum height above the landing surface and 12" minimum extended handrails at the top and bottom of ramp runs.

2. Usable Doors

All doorways shall have a clear width of 32" minimum when the door is opened 90 degrees. The hardware on accessible doors shall have operable parts with a shape that is easy to grasp and usable from both sides of the door. The threshold at the doorways shall be a minimum of 1/2" high, if applicable. Each door shall have a maneuvering clearance of 18" beyond the latch side of the door for a front approach on the pull side of the door and a 60" minimum clearance perpendicular to the door.

3. Accessible Elements Inside the Classroom

Drinking fountains and water coolers shall have accessible spouts 36" above the finish floor and within 3" of the front edge. Clearances under the water cooler shall be provided with knee and toe clearances. Accessible seating spaces and surfaces shall be provided for wheelchair accessibility.

4. Accessible Locations for Electrical Devices & Controls

Electrical switches, receptacles and thermostat devices shall be mounted a maximum of 48" above the floor for a forward unobstructed approach and a low forward reach of 15" above the floor. An unobstructed parallel approach shall be 54" maximum above the floor with a low side reach above the floor of 15" minimum for the devices.

5. Accessible Bathrooms

Doors to accessible bathrooms without stalls shall not swing onto the clear floor space of the fixture, provided a 30" x 48" clear space is provided beyond the arc of the door swing. If a stall is provided, a minimum of 60" wide and 56" deep stall is required for a wall hung water closet and if the door swings into the stall, the required depth shall be increased 36" minimum.

The lavatory accessible fixtures shall be mounted 34" above the floor with 29" clearance minimum from the floor to the bottom of the apron. The fixture shall have the proper knee and toe clearance. The faucet shall be a single handle lever configuration.

Grab bars for accessible toilet stalls shall be located on the wall closet to the water closet and the rear wall with minimum dimensions of 42" and 24", respectively.

Mirror over lavatories shall be a minimum of 38" above the floor to the bottom edge of the mirror

The five components listed above are not a complete list of accessibility, but the minimum requirements for accomplishing accessibility. Additional accessibility requirements are storage, such as closets and lockers, detectable warning signs, directional signs, and kitchens. In addition, state and local jurisdictions, as well as, the educational review board can amend certain requirements of the model codes and accessibility standards as well.

Note: Dimensions and facts derived for the accessible components were taken from the CABO/ANSI A117.1 standards.

Robert Gorleski is field service representative for PFS Corporation in Bloomsburg, Pa.

Copyright © Modular Building Institute, March 2001.