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COURTESY: COMMUNITY VISION - A long-vacant spot at the southeast corner of Ladds Addition, which used to be a gas station in the 80s, is being developed into Portlands first universally accessible center.Portland’s first universally accessible center is about to be developed on the southeast corner of Ladd’s Addition.

Community Vision is building the Seven Corners Community Collaborative at Southeast Division and 19th Streets, which will house three nonprofits including Community Vision.

“Our goals for the Seven Corners Community Collaborative are to increase access to services to a wider range of people experiencing disabilities, connect people with the ability to communicate via the Assistive Technology Lab and the building itself will serve as a model of accessibility for Portland and the Pacific Northwest region,” said Lisa Steenson, capital campaign development officer with Community Vision.

Total projected cost for the 25,000 square foot development is $7.5 million. Multnomah County donated the long-vacant land to Community Vision, who have worked together for years rehabilitating housing.

“They wanted to see it developed, and they wanted a nonprofit to provide social services at the location, so they contacted us,” said Valerie Plummer, development director with Community Vision.

The four-story commercial building will house nonprofits FACT Oregon and Community Pathways that serve youth, families and adults experiencing disadvantaging conditions. The retail ground floor will contain a 900 square foot Nossa Familia coffee shop and an Assistive Technology Discovery Lab.

“The Assistive Technology Discovery Lab is a cross between OMSI and an Apple store,” Plummer said. “That will be a place where individuals can try out assistive technology, everything from communication devices to a really wide array of things people can try to assist them in daily living.”

Universal access

“Universally designed is a step above ADA — ADA is what most commercial buildings are designed to comply with — but we were really interested in making it accessible for everybody,” Plummer said.

ADA, the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act, is a civil rights law prohibiting discrimination by ability and requiring certain building codes such as ramp access at an incline of one inch per foot of length. Universal access goes a step beyond the minimal accessibility laws.

“ADA doesn’t require things like voice-controlled elevators, but it’s something that, if you are in a wheelchair, it makes life nice,” Plummer said.

There’s nothing — cost or work-wise — stopping any developer from designing for accessibility, except habit.

“Details that you might not even notice, like contrasting paint colors so if you’re visually impaired you can see where the wall is, and you can use the elevators with a kick plate with your foot instead of with your hand,” Plummer said. “There’s going to be voice controls on the elevator as well, so you don’t have to use a hand or a foot.”

The elevator with a kick plate and voice control is an added expense, but pending final subcontractor decisions, the development’s total difference in cost by adding accessible features is less than 1 percent more.

“It’s really not costing us any more, but we’re just thinking through things before we build them,” Plummer said. “The paint colors, that’s no added expense, just a difference in paint colors.”

“If you aren’t serving a population that is first and foremost on their mind, it’s understandable that designers and architects wouldn’t design for universal design just because it’s an added step of thinking through something,” Plummer said.

The bathrooms are designed as large, single rooms, even though ADA only requires a large stall.

“It’s really a matter of the finishes. The guts of the building aren’t any different — the steel and the wood, all that is the same,” Plummer said. “It’s the finishes, the things people interact with when in the building.”

While Seven Corners isn’t a residential building, one of the services provided by Community Vision is a savings program, the Individual Account Program, which matches clients’ savings with grant money.

COMMUNITY VISION - The centers assistive tech lab will be a place for people to try out assistive technology such as communication devices and innovations for everyday living.“It’s a difficult housing environment right now already, so it’s an added difficulty if you’re looking for buildings that are universally designed,” Plummer said. “Theoretically, they should all be accessible, but depending on what your needs are, that may or may not be true.”

“That helps them develop a down payment sooner than if they didn’t have the matched savings,” Plummer said. “We also have a homeownership program. We help people find mortgages that are affordable and not scams, or not adjustable rates they’re going to get surprised by.”

Design process

The site was a gas station in the ‘80s, but has been vacant since at least 2008. Since Ladd’s Addition is a nationally historic neighborhood, national guidelines are enforced locally. Designers went for approval through the City, the Bureau of Development Services and the volunteer Historic Resources Committee.

“Their interest is pretty much exclusively exterior. They don’t care so much about how we design the inside, they’re just interested in how it looks from the street,” Plummer said. “Their recommendations had to do with brick size and color, how the corner is treated, planters and fixtures in terms of door handles, the windows, the glazing on the windows and the spacing of the windows.”

Along Division Street, the first floor plans include an art space, which is Plummer’s favorite part.

“We’re going to have a display window about 28 feet long that’s going to feature artists with disabilities from around the city,” Plummer said. “We got original art pieces and a culture grant to do so.”

Plans include an eco-green roof that is also part of the third floor. There will be eight parking spaces, and a deal with the nearby St. Philip Neri Church about its parking lot.

On the fourth floor will be an accessible kitchen for people who work in the building to use as well as a showroom.

“That will show people options for things that are adjustable and dishwashers that pull out so people in a wheelchairs can use it really easily,” Plummer said. “It’ll serve as a kitchen for the building and it’ll also be a place where people can go and see what different aspects of home modifications are possible, especially for kitchens.”

The development’s groundbreaking is slated for October 20, and its completion for summer 2017.

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