Council's on ground floor, but accessibility still limited

January 10, 1993|By Donna E. Boller | Donna E. Boller,Staff Writer

Wheelchair users will be able to attend Westminster City Council's meeting tomorrow night in the new first-floor council chambers of City Hall -- if they can get into the building.

City officials say wheelchair users should be able to enter through the door that faces City Hall Drive -- with help.

But they wouldn't want to try to use a restroom during the evening.

Council meetings return to City Hall tomorrow night despite one council member's misgivings about resuming the sessions in a building where renovations to meet new accessibility standards for the disabled have not yet begun.

"I'm a little uncomfortable with it," said Councilman Edward S. Calwell. "The [city] fire hall has been open to us for 18 months; it wouldprobably be open to us as long as we need it."

The council moved its meetings to the Westminster fire hall on East Main Street about 16 months ago to provide access for the disabled. The old council chambers on the second floor of City Hall effectively prevented wheelchair users or people who cannot climb stairs from attending city government meetings.

The city government recently moved its finance offices to the second floor and converted that first-floor space into a council chamber.

But renovations to widen the entrance, install accessible restrooms on the first floor and add an elevator to the historic building have not yet begun.

Council President William F. Haifley said the decision to move the meetings back to City Hall was by council consensus. However, Mr. Calwell said he was surprised to learn about a week ago that the meeting site had been changed.

Councilman Kenneth A. Yowan supported the change as a compromise between the needs of the disabled and the occasional inconvenience to the general public caused by meeting at the fire hall.

He cited one recent meeting at which not enough copies of the agenda were available. The fire hall does not have a copying machine, so some citizens could not be given copies.

"You can get a wheelchair in the [City Hall] door. Someone would have to hold the door," Mr. Yowan said.

He said he did not believe the city could be faulted for not moving ahead with its renovation plans, since the council hopes to choose an architect early in February.

The work is budgeted at approximately $200,000 and is expected to take about two months.

The decision to return meetings to City Hall was made at a luncheon for city employees last month.

Councilwoman Rebecca A. Orenstein said she has "found a comfort level with going back."

Ms. Orenstein said she has talked to disabled community members who said they were more concerned with the council's attitude toward the Americans with Disabilities Act than with details of architecture.

"I think our heart is in the right place on this," Ms. Orenstein said. "We're moving on the architect."

Mr. Haifley agreed with Mr. Yowan that a wheelchair user can get into City Hall if someone holds the door.

He acknowledged that a need to use the restroom could pose a problem for a disabled person, but said he did not expect to see wheelchair users at council meetings.

"There has not been one [wheelchair using] person in the eight years I've been there who has tried to come into City Hall," Mr. Haifley said.

City Hall has a men's restroom on the first floor and a women's restroom on the second floor. Neither is wheelchair accessible.

Renovation plans call for installing two accessible first-floor restrooms in part of the space formerly occupied by the city housing office.

Councilman Stephen R. Chapin Sr. could not be reached for comment.

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