Hearing for Noncompliance of Bandstand Lift Policy is Postponed; Potential Fine on Hold

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A side view of the bandstand lift on the town Common. PHOTO BY JOYCE PELLINO CRANE

 

A hearing that has the potential to cost taxpayers thousands of dollars was postponed on Sept. 5 by the Architectural Access Board which oversees the bandstand lift in the town Common.

The mechanical lift on the bandstand is under scrutiny because an AAB-approved policy from 2009 had been amended in 2013 without the state agency’s endorsement.

A notice dated July 31 from the AAB chairman, notified town officials that an informal adjudicatory hearing had been scheduled in Boston.

“This hearing is being held to determine whether or not your noncompliance with the Board’s order of April 12, 2009, is without justification and if so whether or not to impose fines of up to $1,000.00 per day per violation,” stated the notice, signed by Chairman Walter White.

Front view of the lift for the bandstand. PHOTO BY JOYCE PELLINO CRANE

Town Manager Jodi Ross said a section of the original one-page policy was altered in 2013 to remove a mention of the Police and Fire Departments. The policy listed two residents’ names and the two public safety departments as resources “if any problems occur with the operation of the lift.”

“The policy was changed as town resources did not provide for us to have a firefighter or police officer present anytime the bandstand was in use,” stated Ross. She has since changed the policy to include the office of the town manager in place of the Police and Fire Departments.

“We revised it and sent it to AAB,” said Ross.

On Sept. 5, the AAB issued a notice saying the Sept. 9 hearing had been postponed. It’s unclear why or when it will be rescheduled. John High, chief of staff for the state Division of Professional Licensure, which oversees the AAB, did not return calls seeking comment.

A product of the town’s Common Restoration Project in conjunction with the Historical Commission, the bandstand was built in 2008 to replicate an historic one. Although it is key-operated, the lift was granted a variance from the state requirement that a communication system and buzzer be installed. Regulations by the state Architectural Access Board specify that “if the wheelchair lift is key-operated, a buzzer and intercom system must be installed at the lift and connected to a location within the building where the key is maintained.”

On December 13, 2016, selectmen voted unanimously to approve the construction of a ramp leading to the bandstand, using $20K of Community Preservation funds. Community Preservation funds come from a property tax surcharge and can be used to cover historical and land preservation projects, as well as the creation of affordable housing.

Selectmen took up the matter again on Jan. 24, 2017, when, instead of advancing with plans for a ramp, they voted to have a professional maintenance company check it regularly to ensure its proper function.

On February 23, 2017, members of the Commission on Disability unanimously voted not to recommend to the town manager that the lift’s accessibility be increased.

Westford’s bandstand on the town Common. PHOTO BY JOYCE PELLINO CRANE

But Commissioner Kate Phaneuf later said she worried the lift did not comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. In a letter to the editor, received Sept. 4, Phaneuf wrote, “I think it is important to look at the bigger picture, here. For persons using wheelchairs to access the bandstand, a ramp would be preferable to a lift.”

Phaneuf, the chairman of the COD until this summer, remains on the commission but stressed she is speaking as a resident. She said a ramp would benefit the most number of people.

“It could be used by wheelchair users, but would also be helpful for those using canes or walkers,” she added.

Disclosure: Joyce Pellino Crane and Kate Phaneuf had a prior professional relationship.