WESTMINSTER -- The City Council appears likely to scrap plans to install an elevator in historic City Hall, opting instead to create a first-floor meeting room accessible to the disabled.
The council consensus now favors first-floor renovations that will meet what Councilman Kenneth A. Yowan calls "the spirit of the Americans with Disabilities Act."
The changes will provide access for disabled individuals to council meetings, the mayor's office and some staff offices. A first-floor conference room will be available for disabled visitors to meet with city staff members who have second-floor offices.
Mayor W. Benjamin Brown plans to appoint a disabled residents' access committee to help plan the renovations and to respond to citizens' concerns about accessibility to the building.
Council members have been struggling for more than a year to balance space needs for city programs, accessibility requirements of the new disabilities law and the public's expressed desire not to change the exterior of the 19th-century building.
Cost and the difficulty of locating an elevator to serve three different levels -- the second floor has two levels 18 inches apart -- have been major sticking points. City officials estimated the cost of the elevator at about $130,000, a major share of the $225,000 budgeted for the City Hall renovation.
Council members learned at a seminar this month that the new law is generally being interpreted to mean that access for the disabled must be incorporated in renovations or construction of public buildings. But where no renovations are planned, city governments aren't required to undertake projects solely for accessibility.
Councilwoman Rebecca A. Orenstein, who has consistently opposed changing the appearance of City Hall, said she was "right on" with the first-floor renovation. The councilwoman, who walked through the building last week with an architect who specializes in historic restoration, said she hopes to adopt his suggestions for re-creating the period atmosphere through such touches as original wall colors.
"If with the same money we can do it with the historic integrity, that would be great," Ms. Orenstein said.
Mr. Yowan said he would like to see the project started soon. "By taking some action in the near term, we would show that we are all sincerely interested in the [Americans with Disabilities] Act and in complying," he said.
If the council endorses the first-floor renovation plan, City Planning Director Thomas B. Beyard said he would start drawing up specifications for contractors.