Thursday, May 13, 2010

Do We Really Want to Repair the Steps?

In a conversation with a friend yesterday, I happened to mention the deteriorated steps at the Mayfair Drive entrance to the narthex at St. Paul’s. My friend is not a parishioner but she is an Episcopalian who is familiar with our building. She also has mobility problems.

I can’t recall the details of our discussion, but the upshot of it was that perhaps St. Paul’s doesn’t need to replace the steps but should build a handicapped access ramp to the sidewalk along Mayfair Drive instead. The most obvious advantage of such a plan is that it would provide more direct access to the church proper and allow a person in a wheelchair, say, to enter the church from the rear, a less conspicuous entrance (and perhaps a less embarrassing one) than through the transept door near the elevator lobby.

Replacing the steps with a ramp might—I emphasize might—even save money. The steps, to be restored properly, should be constructed of limestone. The ramp could be poured concrete, a cheaper material, though one needed in greater quantity. Of course, any savings could be eaten up by the need to remove the current walkway and steps up to the Mayfair door.

I don’t know enough about handicapped access, architecture, or construction to know if my idea is a viable one, but I do think it deserves some consideration. The ten thousand dollars we have talked about spending on a set of little-used steps might be put to better use by building a ramp. In any case, something should be done about the steps soon. In their current condition, cordoned off by yellow tape, they are hardly a welcoming sight and seem to send the message that St. Paul’s cares neither about its building nor about those who use it. Some might conclude that our finances are so dire that we cannot afford to make repairs.

We should ask if people would use such a ramp. It would certainly have the advantage of being a more conspicuous advertisement of our commitment to accessibility than the presence of our elevator. Of course, we wouldn’t want a ramp to mar the beauty of the building, but, being on the side of the church, I don’t think the ramp would be too jarring architecturally. Its obtrusiveness could be mitigated by plantings, which could actually beautify the site.

The steepness of Mayfair Drive presents some problems. It is not the ideal place to get out of a car, especially if you have mobility problems. The sidewalk might have to be re-contoured to place a level slab at the bottom of the ramp. Would a straight ramp to the sidewalk have a sufficiently gentle angle? I’m not sure that it would. A curved ramp would be more complex and expensive.

Perhaps access via a ramp and steps is indicated for the Mayfair narthex entrance. This is probably more of an aesthetic issue than a practical one, and it deserves consideration. It bothers me at least a little that the ramp would not allow easy access from the plaza directly in front of the main entrance. On the other hand, we might be able to design a ramp with a very gentle slope that connects with the plaza. Exiting a car on Washington Road is more convenient than on Mayfair, though traffic is a hazard.

Does any sort of ramp seem reasonable? What do you think?

1 comment:

pwshimer said...

A ramp to the Mayfair Door is an excellent idea. Lionel, I mentioned this to John Sozanski who said he believed that the ramp was already in the planning stages, and looking for a donor. I believe he said the cost was around $7K. I would hope that the ramp would be designed to drain rapidly and not facilitate becoming slick with ice in the winter.