Saturday, November 21, 2020

Once Scorned, Now Pursued

At the Historic Preservation Commission meeting on Friday, Peter Bujanow, commissioner of Public Works, and Mark Thaler of the architectural firm Lacey Thaler Reilly Wilson presented the plan to make City Hall compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). What was presented was Plan 3, the least costly of the four options to achieve universal accessibility proposed in a feasibility study done by Lacey Thaler Reilly Wilson early in 2019.

The plan will make the entire first floor of the building universally accessible and involves creating a lift at the front entrance, adding a ramp to the dais in the Common Council chamber, and redesigning the restrooms, the side entrance, and the passageway from Prison Alley. The estimated cost presented in the feasibility study was $131,000.

What is of some concern to historic preservationists is the necessary alteration to the facade of the building. The marble steps will be removed, and the doorway will be dropped down to street level. 

Once inside the door, visitors can either climb a set of stairs into the lobby of the building or use a lift, which will be located just to the right of the door. 

The actual design for the new entrance has not yet been developed, but Thaler spoke of "something that reflects earlier design for the doorway" and displayed a some historic images of the building, these two being the ones that best showed the entrance doors.


The HPC agreed that, in the words of architect member Chip Bohl, the plan "was perfectly acceptable in concept," but they wanted details on how the new entrance will be achieved. Thaler assured the HPC that no demolition would take place until the total concept had been designed and reviewed and approved by the HPC. At the suggestion of HPC legal counsel Victoria Polidoro, the HPC requested that the marble steps be retained for some yet to be defined reuse.

Doing a feasibility study for making City Hall ADA compliant was the initiative of Mayor Rick Rector, who was concerned about accessibility at City Hall even before the lawsuit brought against the City by three Hudson residents raised the issue to the level of emergency. In October 2018, an RFP (request for proposals) was issued, a process that led to the selection of Lacey Thaler Reilly Wilson as the firm to do the study. In February 2019, when the resolution authorizing the mayor to enter into a contract for the study came before the Common Council, Council president Tom DePietro, who was championing the plan to buy the abandoned John L. Edwards school and move City Hall, the Youth Center, and all other city offices there, suggested the study might be redundant. The minutes from that meeting report: "[DePietro] stated there had been questions of the redundancy given the pursuit of J.L. Edwards School and he stated the City Treasurer rightly pointed out that even if this does not happen, it would enhance any possible sale of City Hall." 

DePietro's skepticism about the study persisted. In October 2019, after the City had reached its settlement agreement with the federal government about ADA compliance, Peter Frank, from Friends of Hudson Youth, asked at the informal Common Council meeting if the three less expensive plans for making City Hall ADA compliant would satisfy the terms of the settlement agreement. DePietro responded to Frank's question with another question: "Do you think they do?" He went on to opine, "I don't think they do, but I'm not an expert." A strange comment to make since Lacey Thaler Reilly Wilson, who were vetted as experts in such things, had been tasked with proposing "the improvements necessary to provide access to City Hall consistent with the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)."

A year later, it's not clear when the decision was made to pursue Plan 3 or who made the decision, but it appears that Plan 3 is moving forward.

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