The bandstand in the Common will be getting a walkway to provide a safer means of accessibility for wheelchair-bound people.
The structure has come under scrutiny by the state Architectural Access Board over a lift installed to comply with American Disability Act requirements.
A product of the town’s Common Restoration Project in conjunction with the Historical Commission, the bandstand was built in 2008 to replicate a historic one, according to Assistant Town Manager Eric Heideman. But under current day requirements, the mechanical lift, turned on by a key held at Town Hall, must meet specifications.
The gradual sloping walkway would surround the entire perimeter of the bandstand and end at the top landing, according to Heideman. Materials would cost around $21,000, he said. But if approved by Nashoba Valley Technical High School in Westford, the project would be handled by students there and labor would be provided at no expense.
An application for Community Preservation funds would be submitted to the Community Preservation Committee. CPC 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.
“So we wanted to bring it before the board and see what your opinion was on it and see if you support that plan,” Heideman said.
But the effort has met with resistance by Ellen Harde, a member of the restoration project. Harde spearheaded the construction project eight years ago.
“I still have to go on record tonight as having very serious concerns about doing this to the bandstand,” she said.
Harde said the lift is actually a freight elevator that was marketed in 2008 as a handicapped lift.
“The state elevator board said it’s not an elevator. It is a lift therefore it doesn’t come under our purview,” she said. “So they were neutral on it and they sent us back to the Architectural Access Board who approved it.”
The contraption cost about $12,000, she added.
“…it was money that we didn’t have but we raised it and we put in that lift to be compliant…,” Harde said.
But Town Manager Jodi Ross noted that the lift is not being inspected on an annual basis.
“This one has never been inspected because they don’t consider it a lift,” said Ross. “…when I look at it, if I were in a wheelchair and had to be lifted on it, I would be nervous about it. It is a very simple lift…”
Ross noted that the town could be fined for not having a structure that complies with requirements.
“I just feel like I have to bring this forward,” said Ross.
Harde noted that the lift can only be operated if the key is inserted and turned.
“At the moment it is locked…you can only make it go up and down if it’s turned with a key. So the chances of it going up and down unexpectedly are I would say zero,” said Harde. “As far as it not being safe…it was designed and marketed to us as a wheelchair lift.”
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.”
The Common lift does not meet that requirement according to Ross.
Selectmen voted unanimously to approve the walkway and to seek CPC funds. They also gave Harde clearance to seek a waiver from the Architectural Access Board in the hope that it could be grandfathered.