Wisconsin Department of Commerce Newsletter
April 2005
Wisconsin Commercial Building Code Accessibility Application

The Wisconsin Commercial Building Code (WCBC) is a comprehensive set of building construction rules that has evolved since the code was adopted in 1914. The foundation of the WCBC is based on the safe place statute. What must be provided regarding commercial buildings is established by statute language. How the language of the law is to be satisfied is found in the administrative rules of the WCBC. The evolution of the WCBC is a result of contemporary construction practices as well as the inclusion of related concerns including energy conservation and accessibility requirements based on federal laws.

The 1990 federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects the civil rights of people with disabilities similar to the civil rights protections provided for persons on the basis of race and gender. Owners of commercial buildings must be aware that under federal law of the ADA they are required to remove barriers to people with disabilities and the barriers include physical barriers as well as program or service barriers, where it is readily achievable to do so. While the federal ADA law may be considered a law that is applied retroactively, the WCBC is triggered only when there is construction activity to a building.

In 2002 the WCBC transitioned from a proprietary code written and maintained by the state to a commercial code that adopted the International Code Council suite of codes. The International Building Code (IBC) is a comprehensive set of rules that covers construction, egress, fire provisions and accessibility for both new and altered buildings. The requirements for accessibility can be found in chapter 11, which also references the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) 117.1 for the technical design standards for accessibility. New construction, which includes additions, is subject to meeting the minimum requirements of accessibility, and alterations to existing buildings must also meet certain accessibility requirements based on the scope of the alterations.

As stated earlier, accessible design under the WCBC is triggered by construction activity. Once the decision to construct or alter a commercial building has been made, plans must be prepared and submitted for review prior to issuance of a permit and commencement of construction. During the design stage meeting the requirements of accessibility must be satisfied. New construction, which includes additions, is subject to meeting the minimum requirements of accessibility. When an alteration is done to an existing building, the altered element or space must comply with the accessibility requirements. In addition, if an altered area contains a primary function area for the building, an accessible route to the altered area is required, if the cost to do so would not exceed 20 percent more than the cost of the planned alteration.

Change of ownership, application for occupancy, as well as routine inspection not driven by construction activity will not require accessibility accommodation based on the WCBC. However, owners of commercial buildings must be aware that under federal ADA law they are required to remove barriers in their buildings, where it is readily achievable.

For more information regarding the ADA and accessibility requirements associated with the Wisconsin Commercial Building Code contact Ms. Diane Meredith at 608-266-8982.

- Henry Kosarzycki, AIA

The newsletter is issued electronically every other month.

Please send comments or questions to Barbro McGinn, editor.

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