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Hamilton city hall getting an accessibility facelift

 By Kevin Werner, News Staff

 Over five years after Hamilton City Hall was renovated, politicians agreed this week to spend another $350,000 to make the facility accessible as required under the province’s Accessibility for Ontario with Disabilities Act and to meet the city’s own barrier-free guidelines.

“We have no choice under the municipal bylaw, (and) no choice morally,” saidStoney Creekcouncillor Brad Clark. “It’s all about dignity. Everybody should have access to city hall.”

Some politicians, including Clark and Flamborough councillor Robert Pasuta, raised the issue about city hall’s lack of accessibility years ago pointing to its large glass doors preventing people from entering them chamber. At times people with mobility devises struggled to simply open the doors to enter.

Clarksaid people with a wheelchair or some other assisted devised were forced to wait until someone opened the door for them while the public watched their distress.

“It’s a lot of money,” said Pasuta. “(But) it was difficult to watch (people struggle).”

The cost to improve access to the council chambers and to 25 city hall meeting rooms will cost $349,580. Of the 25 meeting room doors, 14 will need heritage permit approvals, including the large glass doors to the council chambers which are recognized as heritage.

It will cost about $52,600 to renovate the council chamber glass doors, while another $30,400 will go towards upgrading the council chamber ante rooms, and $113,400 will help make the city hall public meeting rooms accessible.

The new door system for council, for instance, will have an automatic entrance that will allow the glass doors to slide.

Marnie Cluckie, manager of strategic planning for capital and compliance, said the design and tender for the project will be done at the end of the year. The contract will be awarded in January 2015, with work to begin in June and last until September during a time when the council chamber is not being used as much.

Ancaster councillor Lloyd Ferguson, who also chaired the city hall renovation subcommittee until the $74-million project was completed in 2009, said when it was completed city hall “met the requirements of accessibility.”

He said the number one issue that confounded the project was navigating the heritage requirements. He said any changes to the council doors or to the other meeting room entrances will face scrutiny from the heritage committee.

While chair of the renovation committee, he fought against the heritage committee and council had to overturn recommendations the heritage committee had made to preserve parts of city hall. One particular issue was replacing the exterior marble with pre-cast concrete. The heritage committee opposed the move, but council rejected the heritage committee’s recommendation.

Members of the heritage permit review subcommittee had recommended a less intrusive option to the council doors, but staff overruled them.

Gerry Davis, public works general manager, agreed when city hall was completed it did meet all provincial building codes, and the city’s barrier-free guidelines at the time. For instance, a ramp for people with mobility devices was installed at the back of city hall during the renovations.

“We made the building accessible,” he said.

But over the last few years the provincial AODA, which became law in 2005, started to impact municipal and private commercial buildings. During this time the city approved its own barrier-free design for all of its own facilities.

“We are moving forward to comply with the AODA,” said Ward 4 councillor Sam Merulla. “We will get to where we want, (but) slowly.”

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