When the 2014 Minnesota Legislature gavels into session February 23, Minnesota’s disability community will be there in force. But during a two-year period of capitol renovations and new construction, getting in and around may be an adventure.
“If you find a parking place, camp out there for two years,” said Margot Imdieke Cross, accessibility specialty for the Minnesota State Council on Disability. “And getting into the building will be a feat unto itself.”
The capitol, which was built in 1905, doesn’t comply with current building codes. The $272.7 million renovation began in September 2013 and will continue through the end of 2016. The project will bring many amenities for people with disabilities including, improved accessible entrances, reconfigured hearing rooms accessible door handles and larger restrooms will all be welcomed. But until the work is done, those who visit the capitol need to plan ahead for parking and access.
In the meantime, capitol renovation and work on the State Office Building will be a challenge. Last year the capitol’s front lawn was converted into temporary parking for construction crews. Over time almost every office and meeting space will be renovated. Everything and everyone, including the governor’s office, will have to move at some point. At a press briefing on the project last year, Gov. Mark Dayton said, “It’s going to be miserable.”
Imdieke Cross said, “We will see many nice improvements, especially in the areas of accessibility.”
“We’re not losing any parking but we will be moving around,” she said. MNSCOD plans to post parking updates on its website. The state also has a web page, which can provide information about parking and other services for visitors with disabilities.
People with disability should plan ahead before arriving to testify at hearings or meet with elected officials. Most visitors compete for the dozen signed spaces in Lot B, which is north of the capitol on the north side of University Avenue. Lot B has an elevator and tunnel to the capitol. But that lot is the future site of a new and controversial $90 million Senate office building. The building plans are tied up in court but when work starts, those spaces will be relocated to the parking on Aurora Avenue south of the capitol. That street now has only two disability spaces.
The new fully accessible Senate office building will include structured parking, including 20 disability parking spaces. One block to the west, at Rice and University, a new parking structure planned there will provide additional disability spaces. Visitors should also watch for future changes in Lot F, by the Minnesota Department of Transportation building. All parking there, including disability parking, will be displaced in a few years when that lot is replaced with structured parking.