OSF, city face lawsuit

A federal lawsuit filed against the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and the city of Ashland alleges both violate the Americans with Disabilities Act because of OSF's failure to replace its brick courtyard with slip-resistant material and other inaccessibility issues.

The complaint was filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Medford by Ashland resident Philip Lang, who has long warned OSF and the Ashland City Council about the dangers of the sloping courtyard, which has the potential to be slippery.

Lang is not asking for any money, said his Ashland attorney, Tom Dimitre. "We're just asking that it be fixed."

The city owns most of the land on which OSF sits and leases it to the nonprofit organization.

The council voted in March 2007 to send OSF a letter asking that the courtyard replacement project be complete before the start of the 2008 season.

Lang's complaint lists the slope percentages of 16 locations around the OSF campus, including multiple areas of the brick courtyard surrounding the Green Show stage and various access ramps around the courtyard, inside the Elizabethan Stage, and in front of the New Theatre.

All but one of the locations, which were measured by an independent engineer, Dimitre said, were listed as being over the ADA-required 5 percent slope for wheelchair access paths.

Because OSF is defined as a "public accommodation" by the disabilities act, it is required to meet ADA accessibly specifications in buildings and areas constructed after 1993 or modified after 1992.

The festival planned to start replacing its courtyard in 2007, but decided staff and leadership changes at that time combined with a torn-up courtyard would create too much chaos, OSF officials said then.

They pushed the start time back to fall 2008, but the project never started because of budget problems.

The festival had not yet been served its summons Wednesday and was not prepared to comment on the litigation, said Executive Director Paul Nicholson.

City Attorney David Lohman said the city hadn't been served yet, either. He said he was aware of the lawsuit, but would not comment.

Lang refused to provide a comment over the phone.

In 2009, the courtyard replacement project was estimated to cost more than $500,000 and included excavating the old bricks and underlying soil as well as putting in new base material and bricks that provide better traction.

Reach reporter Sam Wheeler at 541-499-1470 or email swheeler@dailytidings.com.

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