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Butte medical practice faces roadblock from the city in meeting ADA compliance

Butte business facing roadblocks when trying to become ADA compliant
Posted at 10:10 AM, Mar 20, 2024
and last updated 2024-03-20 12:18:05-04

BUTTE — The owner of a new medical practice that opened in an Uptown Butte building built in the late 1800s says she wants to make her practice accessible to all. But the entryway to her building is not ADA-compliant, and she says her efforts to work with the city on the matter have left her feeling disheartened.

"So what we’re asking for is approximately 40 inches out here onto the sidewalk. It would come out here with one step and then it would go this way out for access onto the sidewalk," Jamie Decker, the owner of Top Deck Medical Aesthetics and Wellness says as she stands on the sidewalk in front of her building in the space where she hopes to build a wheel handicap accessible ramp.

Decker is a Montana board-certified family nurse practitioner who has extensive experience in her field, including earning a degree from Montana Tech and her doctorate from Montana State University. She also worked in a Billings hospital through the COVID pandemic.

"I worked in the ICU as a hospitalist there, so I really saw kind of the worst of the worst and through that decided that it was time to move home, and I really wanted to come back and take care of the people of Butte," says Decker.

Decker says she began looking for a space for her practice that would help treat men and women from age 16 years and up for general medical needs. She also offers aesthetic options like Botox, fillers, and medical-grade facials, and she treats patients who don't have insurance. She says she's providing more options for medical care in a small town that she says does not have a lot of options.

When looking for places to plant her new business, she said she wanted to be in the Uptown area and the old empty building across from the courthouse called to her. Decker secured historic preservation grants and in all she says she spent over $400,000 dollars renovating the space. But then she hit a major roadblock when trying to make the building ADA accessible.

Decker found that the information on the city website was lacking and when she started digging into the issue, she became frustrated. Meetings with city officials from the Butte-Silver Bow County road department and the county's ADA coordinator left her feeling disheartened when she received a letter in August denying her request to place a ramp outside of her building.

"If there was a policy in place I think it would be beneficial, but it's been super disheartening up to this point," says Decker.

Decker says recommendations from the engineering firm advised against tampering with her nearly 150-year-old structure as was advised by the city, so she asked for what she thought was a fair option. After all, multiple buildings on Granite Street have ADA-compliant ramps, including the Butte Water Company which sits just a few doors down from Top Deck.

But city officials disagreed.

"....After a comprehensive evaluation of the circumstances and considering the relevant legal and regulatory obligations, we regret to inform you that we are unable to grant your request for an easement, we are bound by our responsibilities as public stewards to ensure the proper maintenance, safety and functionality of the public right-of-way," says a letter signed by James Ouellette, the B-SB County ADA coordinator.

The letter goes on to say that the city encourages Ms. Decker to ensure her business is in compliance with ADA standards but that the adjustments should not interfere with the public right-of-way.

And in another document, city officials say they are not recommending that the city council approves her easement, saying that a private business is not allowed to utilize public sidewalks for constructing ramps. This opinion has advocates for disability rights in Butte upset.

"Supporting businesses who want to become accessible should be a priority and it’s really exciting to me that this business does want to be accessible. So it would behoove the city to consider looking at policies and practices and developing that supports accessibility in this town," says Kristen Newman, the accessibility specialist for Ability Montana.

Jamie Decker says her goal to serve all people will be met and she plans to take her case to the Butte City Council in April, but disability advocates say that Decker is not the only old building in Uptown Butte that does not comply with the ADA.

Cassie Wick, the independent living specialist with Ability Montana, says her group supports Top Deck's request to place a ramp in front of her building, but she also wants to work closely with the city to make sure there is a permitting process so that ADA compliance is done with ease.

"We'd like to say that good access is good business, so if a building is accessible then anyone can go to that business and anyone can support that business and I think a lot of times we talk about it from a disability perspective. But it's really about everyone being able to get in—people that have strollers, people that are making deliveries. Access is for everyone, especially if we have someone who wants to make their building accessible, that we have a process in place so they can do so," says Wick.

"Butte always says that we take care of our own but I don't see how they're taking care of me and helping me .... have access to this building or any of the Uptown buildings that don't have these amenities," says Michelle Lewis with Ability Montana.

Jamie Decker and her five Butte employees as well as the crew with Ability Montana plan to take their case to Butte's city council in April.