By Beth Treffeisen
Special to the Gazette
The Christopher A. Iannella Chamber that hosts the weekly City Council hearings is set for some major accessibility upgrades.
At a City Council hearing on April 5, City Council President Michelle Wu gave an update on the much needed project as it gets set for construction over the summer.
The renovations include lifting the Council floor and make space fully accessible for those with mobility challenges and/or using wheelchairs.
Currently, the Council floor is three steps down from the main floor, and the only way down is from a ramp that requires someone in a wheelchair to go all the way around the back entrance for access.
During one of the hearings last year, a resident coming down the ramp fell out of her wheelchair and had to receive medical treatment. Her experience highlighted to the Council that the former ramp was badly out of compliance. It was too steep and lacked the appropriate handrails.
That ramp was quickly replaced with a compliant ramp while conversations within the Council began on how to better provide accessibility overall.
The new plans will mean that no one will have to go around to the back to access the Council floor and that the councilors’ entrance and President’s podium will be fully accessible.
There will also be a row of public seating to provide wheelchair accessible seating that is currently nonexistent.
“The floor will be raised so that there will be no need for ramps anywhere down onto the floor,” said Wu. She later added that the access points into the Chamber would remain the same as they are now.
The improvements will also include sound treatments on some of the walls to help attendees hear better, LED lights that will save energy and provide adequate lighting on the side of the Chamber that is currently dark, and new carpeting in the form of carpet tiles that are easier to clean and overall more cost-effective to maintain.
“In the nature of historic preservation the project team has been going after in terms of finishes and layout,” said Wu.
Public testimony will likely occur from two sides near the public seating, so that residents can line up on both sides and speak directly from podiums at the railing in front of the first row of public seating in the center.
Construction will likely happen from July through September in the Chamber. Currently the City Council is looking to accelerate getting equipment additions that would enable the Council to live stream off-site hearings and meetings.
“We are nearing the end of the feedback window in order to stay on schedule,” said Wu. “Therefore we need to get the plans in in order for this to start in the summer when the Council has a little bit of a lighter schedule.”
This is part of an overall campaign to make City Hall more accessible to all through building renovations and upgraded facilities.