Augusta Regional Collaboration Project hits snag over restroom renovation

The ARC Project hit a roadblock this week when a city inspector declared the Metro Augusta Chamber of Commerce building unfit for occupancy until a first-floor restroom is installed.

The Augusta Regional Collaborative, a creation of Mayor Deke Copenhaver, has a five-year lease of the city-owned property, a 1976 creation by the firm of renowned architect I.M. Pei located in the 600 block median of Broad Street.

But the unique structure, designed as a series of five connected diamonds, lacks restrooms on its first floor and an elevator never was installed in an included shaft.

Augusta Building Official Marshall Masters said Wednesday that inspector Johnny Smith determined during a preliminary walk-through, required for ARC to obtain a business license and certificate of occupancy, that the building’s lack of a restroom meeting requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act was an issue that had to be addressed before the building could open, and has requested drawings of the planned facilities from ARC.

ARC, which is soliciting proposals from organizations of all kinds to occupy at little cost one of several spaces inside for food and beverage, events, performance and recording, educational or office uses, obtained $300,000 in city funds for the project and another, a mills campus proposal.

A 2012 memorandum of understanding signed by then-Mayor Pro Tem Joe Bowles states that $100,000 of the funds are to be used for renovations and rehabilitation of the property, although a city finance official said the funds weren’t paid until earlier this summer, after ARC has had construction workers and volunteers performing work on the building.

ARC Executive Director Matt Kwatinetz could not be reached for comment. Al Dallas, Copenhaver’s executive assistant and city liaison on the project, said ARC has drafted a plan for a unisex, ADA-compliant restroom on the first floor and will soon seek bids for the work to be performed. He said the addition will delay opening of the site until October, a month or so behind its scheduled opening in September.

Dallas said the restroom wasn’t a complete oversight but a detail Kwatinetz hoped to address after ARC secured “temporary occupancy” of the building.

ARC has obtained at least 15 applications from organizations seeking to inhabit one of the spaces, but Dallas did not know when those selected would be notified.

One applicant, Brad Owens, said he hopes the Southeastern Filmmakers Association – of which he is president – will be chosen to get to use one or more of the spaces for its monthly meetings and occasional mini-film screenings.

The networking organization has around 400 members but hasn’t had a permanent place to gather for some time, Owens said.

Owens noted the irony of the city citing its own building for a deficiency, but said any development in the 600 block is a positive one for downtown Augusta.

“I consider it a positive thing that this is even a concern,” Owens said, “because I know that people will be using the building again.”

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