Cheakamus switches to remain accessible 

Family with young children worried by low electric panel, thermostat

One family visiting their new home in Cheakamus Crossing made a surprising discovery last week after noticing that all of the light switches and thermostats were placed low on the wall - a height accessible to Paralympic athletes in wheelchairs.

Upon further investigation they also discovered that their fuse box was lower that you would typically find in a home.

With two children aged two and three, Dave and Tess Evans say they wish they had known about the fixtures before purchasing or that they had the option of paying extra to have the fixtures moved higher up the wall while the homes were being retrofitted.

While they will likely move in as planned, they believe that the information - that their home was built to be accessible - should have been shared.

"We have not been made aware through our purchase agreement nor does our disclosure statement have it documented that the light switches and thermostats would not be at a useful height, and were never intended to be," said Tess Evans.

"First and foremost we are having nightmares about the safety of our children and what the repercussions would be of having a two year old and a three year old with access to a thermostat and light switches. It's worse now knowing that the electrical panel is within reach of our children - I don't want to imagine that we might find that they've turned the fridge off on the panel."

Evans says she wishes that information had been available from the start before they made a decision whether they really wanted to buy that particular unit - they may have purchased elsewhere in Cheakamus Crossing if they'd known.

They also wonder how many other families will be surprised by the placement of the fixtures.

Joe Redmond, president of the Whistler 2020 Development Corporation, said there was no information in the disclosure statement because there didn't need to be - all of the fixtures that were installed are to code, even if they are lower than what some people are used to.

"(The fixtures) are six to eight inches lower than normal, and that's all," he said. "The homes were designed for Paralympic use, and we never contemplated changing them."

Redmond says other accessibility features, such as grab bars in the bathrooms and vanity counters that could a wheelchair can be pushed under, have been removed. But the cost of moving the fixtures would likely be high.

"You would almost have to rewire the whole house, because we don't know how long the wiring is, and if it's short it's not a simple thing to make it longer. You'd have to cut into the drywall - it's not something we budgeted for," said Redmond.

"This is purely an aesthetic issue and it's the way it is for purely functional reasons. It's not a safety issue. If there was a danger (to lower fixtures) then the building code would have changed and would say fixtures had to be at a certain height."

According to Redmond, the accessible buildings can be found in many of the Cheakamus Crossing neighbourhoods that have homes with bedrooms on the main floor, as well as in apartment-style dwellings that have elevator access.

Over 1,300 athletes took part in the 2010 Paralympic Winter Games. All of the events, with the exception of sledge hockey and wheelchair curling, took place in Whistler. As a result, hundreds of units in the Whistler athletes' village had to be built to the accessibility code for people with disabilities.

Redmond says it's unfortunate that purchasers are unhappy with the placement of fixtures. However, he says people need to understand that these homes were purpose-built to host the Olympics and Paralympics and are being resold to resort employees.

"I think most people, probably 99 per cent of people, are going to be very pleased with the quality of these homes," said Redmond. "We changed out some of those things that we felt would give the appearance of an accessible unit, but the light switches were the farthest thing from our mind."

Redmond says that comparable market units would sell for roughly $500 per square foot, while Cheakamus Crossing units were retailing at roughly $240 per square foot - the mid-range for employee-restricted homes administered by the Whistler Housing Authority (WHA).

"People forget that they're buying at $60 per square foot less than the cost of construction, and their costs don't include land or site servicing," said Redmond. "These homes are virtually brand new - they'll have new kitchens and cabinets, the walls are being repainted and any damage from the athletes is being cleaned up. Compared to other homes on the market, including other WHA homes, this is a great deal."

If the Evans decide not to buy, Redmond believes they will be able to find another unit without accessible features.

"There are always units coming available, and if this is a bother they can wait for something they like. There are options," he said. "We're not forcing people to buy, and I know that a lot of people are interested."



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