Thank you for making town halls accessible

Published: 1/11/2019 9:52:42 AM
Modified: 1/11/2019 9:53:53 AM

Everyone deserves access to public spaces, but especially the local town hall. So, we were pleased recently to see that Royalston and Phillipston town leaders – with the help of federal money – have found a way to make their town halls wheelchair accessible, despite some obstacles along the way.

The towns more than two years ago received $831,000 in federal Community Development Block Grant funding for the installation of an elevator in each municipal building. That money, however, has gone unspent because it wasn’t enough – even when matched with other income sources the towns had available. Retrofitting our old town halls is an expensive proposition, requiring major reconstruction in many cases, which drives up the cost.

But this month the selectboards working collaboratively came up with a solution –taking a page from Athol’s play book.

At first, it appeared the CDBG money, in addition to about $340,000 in other local and grant money, would fall nearly $220,000 short of the cash needed to carry out the two-town project, but Phillipston agreed to install a chair lift rather than a full-fledged elevator. If approved by the state administrators who control the CDBG grant, this will bring the project in under budget.

In addition to costing less, the change would decrease the amount of structural work that would be necessary at town hall, according to the project architect Paul Lieneck of the Ashby.

“We just did a lift like this in Athol,” Lieneck told the Phillipston and Royalston selectboard members. He estimated the towns can save in the range of $220,000 or $225,000 by doing a lift.

“You don’t have to upgrade the electric service,” Lieneck explained, “because the lift will run on a standard 220v circuit. You don’t have to build a masonry hoistway. You don’t have to do the elevator. You don’t have to have an elevator pit. You don’t need the elevator machine room. You don’t have to relocate the chimney.”

With the money saved by Phillipston agreeing to forgo an elevator the towns should be able to fund the total cost of the Royalston project.

The possible sticking point, raised by Phillipston’s Chief Administrative Officer, Kevin Flynn, is whether the lift is considered to be an elevator, which is what the CDBG funds were to be used for.

Flynn said changing from an elevator to a chair lift for Phillipston town hall would likely require approval of the state Dept. of Housing and Community Development because it would constitute a change in the purpose of the block grant. That, he said, would require a public hearing, which he plans to scheduled as soon as possible. The project would then have to be re-bid.

Royalston’s elevator project, however, can now move ahead, as the funds for it now appear to be available thanks to the likely savings resulting from the new Phillipston proposal.

We have to credit the leaders of the two towns for cooperating on this accessibility project and then finding a common sense way around a six-figure roadblock. We would encourage the state administrators who control these CDBG grants to see it the same way and allow the lift in lieu of an elevator – or grant the town’s more money for the bigger project.

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