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Phil Matier: San Francisco City Hall’s $500K Wheelchair Ramp

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San Francisco City Hall

San Francisco City Hall. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

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SAN FRANCISCO (CBS 5) — The City of San Francisco may be dealing with a massive budget deficit, but taxpayers just shelled out more than $500,000 for a renovation job at City Hall.

As home improvements go, it has to be one for the books. The installation of 10-foot long wheelchair ramp inside the Board of Supervisors chambers wound up costing $567,735.

“You know San Francisco; we have always stood at the forefront of accessibility,” said Board of Supervisors President David Chiu.

The ramp itself cost about $16,000, but that was just the start. The president’s desk was taken apart, dropped four steps and put back together. Workers had to build a special box around the desk to keep dust from going into the rest of the room.

They also had to match the wood, Manchurian oak, which is now extinct. History was preserved right down to keeping a shadow of the former steps.

“This was the best solution that could meet the balance the interests of the historic preservation community with the disability rights community,” said Suzan Minzner of the Mayor’s Office.

But history has a price. Officials said plans for the project cost $170,000. Another $40,000 was spent to hire historic experts to oversee the job. Labor costs were $200,000. A $49,000 custom-made brass rail for the ramp is still being worked on.

While ramp construction went on, the city also decided to upgrade the audio / video system inside the chambers.

“This is an old historic building. And so a lot of the work that needed to be done here needed to be done very carefully,” said Gloria Chan of the San Francisco Department of Public Works.

Supervisor John Avalos, who voted against the project, said the money could have been better spent on handicapped problems elsewhere in the city.

“There are elevators in buildings in the Tenderloin that go out often. For people with disabilities in wheelchairs, they can’t get in and out of their buildings.” Avalos said. “Along the 26 line on San Jose, there is no accessibility for wheelchair ramps.”

Avalos added, “These are real needs, not symbolic ones. But the symbolism of not getting those real needs done is what’s wrong with this city.”

(Copyright 2011 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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