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City hall accessibility problems

By Kevin Werner, News Staff
Wednesday, October, 03, 2012

It will cost at least $250,000 to make Hamilton’s council chambers, and the other public meeting rooms in the renovated building accessible to the physically challenged.

But it’s a cost Stoney Creek councillor Brad Clark insists should be paid.

“I don’t care what the cost is, we should be leaders in the community,” he said.

Clark, along with Flamborough councillor Robert Pasuta introduced a motion at the Oct. 3 government issues committee to make the heavy glass doors to the council chambers, and any other entrances to public meeting rooms within the city hall barrier-free. Clark and Pasuta suggested using automatic door openers, but Gerry Davis, public works general manager, said there are other options that could be done to make the entrances accessible.

Pasuta said it has become uncomfortable watching people with physical challenges struggle to enter the council chambers because of the glass doors.

“It’s frustrating to watch people,” he said. “It may be costly, but it needs to be done.”

Davis and his staff have already conducted a preliminary review of how to make the council chamber doors accessible. Clark and Pasuta raised the issue a few weeks ago about how difficult it is for people with physical challenges to enter the chambers.

Clark, who is afflicted with arthritis, and at one time was hobbling around with a cane, said it was demeaning to wait until someone opened the door for him so he could go through.

“The comment that someone can always open the door is offensive,” he said. “I want to open the door myself. That is what accessibility is about. I’m baffled we renovate the entire building without it being accessible.”

Other councillors, though, wanted to see a report on how much it will cost to make the doors accessible before approving it.

“It’s a very honourable thing to do,” said Ancaster councillor Lloyd Ferguson, who oversaw the renovation of city hall. “I’d like to see a report back.”

Davis, who said his staff will keep an eye on the costs, said they are already conducting preliminary reviews of the project. On the first floor there are five public meeting rooms, on the second floor there are two meeting rooms, including council chambers, and from floors three to eight, there are about 18 doors that should be made accessible.

He said the preliminary cost is about $250,000, but that doesn’t include permit fees, and utility costs.

“We are already starting the process,” he said.

During the meeting, Clark was clearly irritated that his colleagues were more interested in how much it would cost to make the public space accessible, than helping the city’s disabled. “

“It’s belittling to someone,” said Clark, who despite his size, was unable to open the heavy glass council doors to enter or exit. “It’s a lack of dignity.”

At one point during the debate, while politicians talked about asking for a report, and determining which accessible design is the cheapest, Clark exploded.

“Come on guys. Stop nit picking. A report back? Seriously? It’s not that hard,” he said.

All public and private buildings must conform to the province’s Accessibility For Ontarians Act, passed in 2005. The legislation encompasses external and internal public spaces, buildings, and infrastructure. The act makes allowances for historical buildings and places, and it is not retroactive.Hamilton does have its own barrier-free guidelines, approved a few years ago, that cover all buildings, and exterior areas.

“We have to do this,” said Flamborough councillor Judi Partridge. “(The council chambers) has to be accessible to all the taxpayers of this city.”

Meanwhile, public works staff has installed a drinking fountain on the first floor, and will now consider putting one on the second floor. Before city hall’s renovations, there were public drinking fountains on both levels. But after the improvements, the fountains were removed.

Mountain councillor Scott Duvall said while it’s okay to have a drinking fountain on the first floor, people with physical challenges would have to use the elevator to go to the first floor and use the fountain.

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