Friday, September 10, 2010

Good News/Bad News

The good news is that repairs have begun on the sidewalk and steps leading to the Mayfair Drive entrance to the narthex. The bad news is that we may not be doing a good job of the repair.Plans for steps

Last Sunday, I saw plans for the repairs posted, without comment, in the undercroft. (See picture at right, and click on it for a much larger image.) The plans call for replacing the steps more or less as they have been. The steps are to be concrete. The plans were marked “OWNER/REVIEW SET/NOT FOR CONSTRUCTION,” which I took to mean that demolition and construction were not imminent. I learned yesterday, however, that this was a misinterpretation; I passed the church and discovered that the existing steps have already been demolished. (See below.)

I have two concerns: the materials called for and whether we are ultimately planning to provide handicapped access at the front of the building.
Upper Mayfair Drive entrance on 9/10/2010
All of St. Paul’s is faced with limestone. The front steps and the lower Mayfair entrance steps are limestone. The upper Mayfair steps, that is, the steps just demolished, were mostly concrete. (From the rubble pile, it seems that there was some limestone used. The deteriorated steps were definitely concrete, however. See picture below of the steps as of sometime last May.) The existing stone steps are largely in good repair, except that there are significant cracks where railings were installed. (I suspect that none of the iron railings are original.) In any case, I believe the integrity of the building demands limestone steps. I was told Sunday, however, that limestone cost too much. Shouldn’t it be parishioners, or at least the Vestry, who decide this? (I am told that the Vestry has not been shown the plans or approved the project.)

It is clear from the recent feasibility report on Fulfilling the Vision that parishioners are very concerned about the physical plant of St. Paul’s, and I suspect that they might well opt for limestone steps if asked, even if such steps were more expensive than concrete ones. No one has asked, however, which seems to have become the way business is conducted at St. Paul’s these days.

The second issue is whether we are going to provide handicapped access at the front of the building. I suggested back in May—see “Do We Really Want to Repair the Steps”—that we could use the excuse of repairing the steps to the narthex to provide handicapped access via a ramp from Mayfair Drive. Stairs last MayThe plan for Fulfilling the Vision—now on hold, of course—proposed an alternative plan that would have sloped the pavement in front of the building upward to provide handicapped access from Washington Road. (See “Fulfilling the Vision, Part 1.”) The plans for the present repair connects the front pavement to the Mayfair entrance exactly as it has been. But what if we alter the pavement in front of the building? (It is in poor condition in any case, and a good case could be made for replacing it.) I question whether we should carry out any project involving access to the narthex before we have a comprehensive plan for the front of the church. Because the appearance of the building is affected, that plan should be one at least presented to parishioners, if not actually endorsed by them.

Do we need handicapped access to the narthex? Whenever I bring up the subject, I am told that that is what the elevator is for. After all, we wisely spent the money necessary for an elevator that reaches every level of the church, save for the choir room and chancel. (One might ask for a sign pointing down Mayfair and labeled “Parking and Handicapped Access” or some such, by the way.) One must admit, though, that there is something symbolic in everyone’s being able to enter the church at the front. The parking lot entrance for the handicapped seems a bit like a back-door entrance for “colored.” (I grew up in the South.) Perhaps a more compelling argument for accessibility, however, is for a handicapped exit. In case of fire, the elevator should not be used. What is someone in a wheelchair supposed to do if there is no exit without stairs?

That said, neither plan for handicapped access to the narthex is without its problems. A ramp from Mayfair Drive would have to be long if it were not to be too steep. Access from Washington Road as proposed in Fulfilling the Vision would have significantly changed the building’s fa├žade. Moreover, Washington Road is not an ideal place to discharge passengers, particularly handicapped ones, from an automobile. Even if we installed some sort of driveway in front of the building, the lack of parking would be problematic, particularly for handicapped drivers. The only good solution I see to this problem would be to provide handicapped-only parking parallel to the street but cutting into the existing sidewalk and lawn. Such parking would need to be without a curb to facilitate egress from vehicles.

My current idea for providing handicapped access in front of the church would indeed add a parking area off Washington Road as I have described. I would build a larger paved plaza in front of the church, leaving the front steps as they are. I would build a ramp from that plaza to the side door of the narthex. As it happens, the existing sidewalk from the front of the church to the side entrance actually slopes downward; we had more steps on the side than in the front. This sidewalk could be regraded to go upward. This plan, of course, would require demolition of much of what is about to be built.

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