Academy focuses on access

Alumni house renovated for disabled

April 25, 2007|By Susan Gvozdas | Susan Gvozdas,Special to The Sun

John Yaeger had to carry his adult daughter Jessica into her sister's wedding reception in September at the Naval Academy's alumni house.

Jessica Yaeger, who uses a wheelchair, had no other way to make it up the five steps into 270-year-old Ogle Hall. Nor could she enter its women's room, forcing her to return to her home a block away to use a bathroom.

John Yaeger, a 1974 academy graduate, joined Jessica yesterday at the groundbreaking for a $1.8 million, three-story addition to the house. It will feature an elevator to make the historic home handicapped-accessible.

"I think it's the right thing to be done," Jessica Yaeger said.

Builders will also replace the window air conditioners with a new heating, ventilation and air-conditioning system. The project at 247 King George St. should take nine months to complete.

Because of its age, Ogle Hall is exempt from the Americans with Disabilities Act, which requires accessibility to public places. But the addition has been needed for a long time, said S. Allan Davey, a 1967 academy graduate who serves on the housing committee for the Alumni Association.

Every year, the home hosts more than 100 receptions, weddings, funeral gatherings and other events for alumni, their parents and families. Ogle Hall is not open to the public.

Davey's daughter, Kimberly Higgins, married a 1998 academy graduate and had her wedding reception at the alumni house in 2002. The family worried about Ogle Hall's accessibility for Davey's mother, who was in her 80s. She was able to get into the first floor of the house, but she could not navigate the narrow stairways to see the rest of the house.

"It's a real issue," said Davey, whose three sons also attended the academy. "People on crutches, people with small children - the accessibility is a problem."

The Alumni Association started planning the addition about five years ago and accumulated enough money to address the future use of the house, including its heating system, said George P. Watt Jr., president and chief executive officer of the Naval Academy Alumni Association & Foundation.

In addition, more alumni are taking advantage of the home. The academy has 52,000 living graduates today, compared with about 15,000 when the association bought the house in 1944, Watt said. An aging membership and newly disabled alumni from the war in Iraq made the issue a more pressing matter.

"We have young Marines now - soldiers without their body parts ... so it's making it relevant and accessible for all generations," Watt said.

Ogle Hall, which was built in 1739, took its name from one of its famous first tenants. Maryland Gov. Samuel Ogle began renting the townhouse in 1747. His son, Benjamin, who also became governor, moved in and later had dinner with George Washington at the house in 1773. The Marquis de Lafayette visited in the early 1800s.

The building has undergone several additions and restorations. The Ogles added a ballroom in 1776. Another addition was added in 1921 after a fire. The Alumni Association dug out the basement to make room for a bar in 1945. Another fire spurred major renovations in 1971. The Class of 1967 added a brick patio to the back of the house in 1997.

The association intends to preserve the historic nature of the house with the addition, which will be in the back of the home and have the same brickwork style. Builders will destroy a servant staircase to put in a landing for people to leave the elevator. A dormer also will be moved onto the top of the addition, said John Pilli, president of Pilli Development of Annapolis, which is building the addition. It will also feature handicapped-accessible bathrooms.

The association has reached out to neighbors, passing out door hangers that explain the size and scope of the project. Next door at 245 King George St., the Faulkner family has two young children. A wooden fence separating the properties will be moved several feet into the Faulkner yard until a brick wall replacement can be constructed. C.W. Faulkner had been worried that his children might wander onto the site if it was removed too early.

"It's really a pleasure being their neighbors," he said, recalling a welcome visit the association paid when he moved in last year. "They're very aware of the public and very accommodating."

The project also earned praise from Ward 1 Alderman Richard Israel. He said the historic home is important to the neighborhood.

"It's good to see these buildings used not just as museums," he said.

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