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University of Iowa News Release

Nov. 7, 2005

UI Law School Helps Develop Downtown Dubuque Apartments

The University of Iowa College of Law is helping to develop a housing project in Dubuque that will bring new residents and workers to the city's rejuvenating downtown.

Students in the law school's law clinic are helping convert a former casket factory at 18th Street and Washington Avenue into affordable housing apartments and a neighborhood services center. The project is being led by Dubuque developer John Gronen and Gronen Restoration of Dubuque, and Doug LaBounty, president of Community Housing Initiatives. Construction on the $4.5 million project is expected to begin this fall and take about eight months, according to Gronen.

Gronen is working with Professor Leonard Sandler and law students Matt Mayo and Todd Bagby to ensure that nine of the apartments in the four-story, 36-unit complex are fully accessible for tenants with physical, vision or hearing impairments. Sandler, Mayo and Bagby are looking at the plans for the building and are recommending design changes that will make the apartments not just compliant with federal, state and local accessibility standards, but will be practically useful, too.

"One thing we've learned in our research is that complying with the minimal ADA or Fair Housing accessibility guidelines does not guarantee universal access," said Gronen. "We want these apartments to be fully functional, and the UI law clinic is providing a wonderful service to guarantee a high quality of life for our tenants."

The first floor of the building will be occupied by non-profit agencies that provide neighborhood services, and the law school is helping to ensure that level is fully accessible, as well.

The law school's clinic is providing the service to Gronen at no cost.

"With the university's help, we will have truly functional buildings that will improve the quality of life for our tenants," Gronen said.

Bagby said he and Mayo are looking at the plans from the perspective of family members of all abilities, sizes and shapes, which provides design challenges that people traditionally wouldn't think about. Their perspective, Bagby said, comes after extensive consultations with disabled persons, advocates for the disabled and developers.

"We look at everything from the height and usability of the kitchen appliances to the layout and size of the rooms," he said. "We might ask them to consider reconfiguring rooms to create more space or to put an electrical outlet near the front door that is easy to reach from a seated position so someone with a power wheelchair can conveniently re-charge the chair's battery."

Other questions they look at to help create a barrier-free environment include: Are doors and hallways wide enough to accommodate strollers, laundry baskets or wheelchairs? Are kitchen counters and cabinets low enough to be used by people who work from a seated position or have limited reach or back problems? Can pocket doors that slide into the walls cut down space usage? Is a roll-in shower preferable to a standard bath tub? Can apartment doors be keyless and opened automatically, by swiping a card, pushing a button or using a voice-activation or other system?

Sandler said much of their work is considering even finer details.

"Mounting a cabinet, faucet, mirror or other fixture an inch higher or lower can make the difference between a home that fosters independent living and one that just frustrates or imprisons the people who live there," Sandler said. He also learned from individuals attending a recent disability conference to ask whether latex paint or sealants are used in the construction process. "Many paints and sealants contain latex, but for someone who is allergic to latex, that can be dangerous - most people think only latex gloves pose a danger."

At the same, they are considering the marketability of the apartments, Bagby said.

"We don't want to give them a report filled with recommendations that aren't economically feasible for an affordable housing complex," he said.

Sandler said law clinic students frequently perform audits to help businesses and organizations remove architectural barriers that prevent customers with disabilities from enjoying their goods and services. Among their many projects have been the Coral Ridge Mall, Coe College, Herbert Hoover National Historic Site, New Veterans Memorial Stadium in Cedar Rapids, United Methodist Church in Mt. Vernon, the New Pioneer Co-op in Iowa City and the Cedar Rapids YMCA.

Law students will also be working with the City of Dubuque on a second project, to convert an abandoned building downtown to an independent living center.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Service, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 371, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500.

MEDIA CONTACT: Tom Snee, 319-384-0010,