Making The Berkshires Accessible To All

May 7, 2014

Ventfort Hall in Lenox, Mass.
Credit wikipedia commons

A number of aging Berkshire destinations with plenty of foot traffic are making sure their facilities are accessible and safe for all.

The Stockbridge Library will begin a $3 million renovation this August to upgrade its main building that opened in 1864 and additions that came in 1937. Included in the work will be the addition of two bathrooms and an elevator.

Director Katherine O’Neil says it will access all three floors, home to more than 55,000 books, DVDs and artifacts.

“Our museums and archives are on the lower level so if anybody has any type of difficulty with stairs, they can’t see that collection,” O’Neil said. “We are repository for Stockbridge history so we felt that is was really important for us to provide access for all our patrons.”

The renovations are being supported by an ongoing fundraising campaign and will put the building in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA. Due north in Lenox, the Ventfort Hall Association has been renovating its 1893 mansion since it acquired the red brick building in 1997. Now home to the Gilded Age Museum, its second floor opened for exhibitions last fall. Marketing coordinator Linda Rocke says the museum is raising money to install a modern elevator in an existing elevator shaft.  

“The view from the second floor landing down into the great hall with the staircase and getting close to our pendant ceiling which is original to the house is just beautiful,” said Rocke.   

Rocke says the English television series Downtown Abbey has spurred interest in how servants lived and worked in mansions of the time. With that growing popularity and an elevator, a basement tour is being considered.

“All of the basic rooms are there,” she said. “We have a coal storage room, a room where they did all the butchering, pantries, linen, silverware and dinnerware storage.”

The Northern Berkshire YMCA will soon complete a $50,000 project within its roughly 45-year-old building to make its existing locker rooms accessible to those with mobility issues. CEO Justin Ihne.

“It will have a full bathroom and shower that are ADA accessible and then an additional shower as well,” Ihne said. “It will have easy access into the pool.”

The money was donated by the Alden Trust and the Amelia Peabody Charitable Fund. The YMCA project was one of more than 300 necessary upgrades identified by the U.S. Department of Justice within North Adams city property. The audit in 2010 followed an accessibility complaint at the city’s police station. Administrative officer Michael Canales says the city has borrowed a quarter of a million dollars to cover 90 percent of the repairs.

“If you have a water cooler that sticks out of the wall, you have to make sure on the ground that there’s something that’s going to mark it so that if a person was blind would realize that there’s something protruding out into the hall,” said Canales.

Larger projects like the police station will require engineering studies and substantially more money. With most of the city’s buildings predating the establishment of ADA in 1990, Canales says city employees are identifying and fixing additional issues that weren’t initially found.

2012 reports from Cornell University found that more than 11 percent of Massachusetts residents live with a disability. That rate increases to 47 percent for those over the age of 75. About 25,000 of Berkshire County’s 131,000 people are over 65, the second highest percentage in the commonwealth.