Sykesville wants to make Town House accessible to handicapped

November 18, 1994|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Sun Staff Writer

Although the century-old Town House in Sykesville provides ample work space for municipal employees, it is far from accessible for handicapped residents.

The town Historic Commission will meet with an architect at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Town House to discuss options for improving accessibility to the mansion.

"We are familiar with the regulations and have reviewed much information," said Rebecca Herman, commission director. "This is more of a brainstorming session. We are taking suggestions from the public and the architect."

The white, two-story mansion overlooks Main Street. The town has adapted its spacious rooms and hallways into offices and meeting areas. But the building, constructed in 1883 for one of the town's prosperous merchant families, fails to meet modern federal accessibility requirements.

Town Manager James L. Schumacher said the town must bring the building into compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act. He would like to apply for a state grant to help pay for renovations.

"We would like an architectural drawing and a fairly solid cost figure to send with the application," he said.

There is no deadline for the grant, but Mr. Schumacher hopes to write the application before Dec. 31. He said the renovations also might include a microphone system and a better seating arrangement for the increasing numbers of residents who are attending town meetings.

Visitors can enter the house through a wide doorway off the porch, which extends across the front of the building.

"The problem is there are steps on all three sides of the porch," said Ms. Herman, who may recommend construction of a ramp to the porch.

Physically disabled visitors now must use the kitchen entrance at the side of the building, where there are no steps.

"A back-door entrance is not the message we want to send," said Ms. Herman.

It may not be as welcoming, Mr. Schumacher said, but a new entrance at the back would be cost-effective and could greatly improve access.

He said he also would recommend the removal of one interior wall to create a meeting area that could accommodate about 60 people.

Those recommendations would not address another significant problem: the building's narrow first-floor bathroom. There is little space to enlarge the only public restroom in the building.

Ms. Herman prefers an addition, possibly with two bathrooms. It could be attached to the Town House by a breezeway, she said.

"Adding on makes more sense than trying to make what we need fit to the existing building," she said. "It could be done so it wouldn't detract from or diminish the historical character of the building."

She is uncertain how much room exists for an addition. The Town House sits atop a steep hill and adjoins a parking lot.

"We have to look into what space we have," she said. "What we have now is not real good as far as access, and we need a bathroom."

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