Library Accessibility Improvements

On November 5, 2019, The Pawlet Public Library Board of Trustees voted in support of the Lift Plan Expansion to improve library accessibility for all. Then, on December 30, 2019, The Pawlet Select Board voted to put the Lift Plan Expansion on the March 3, 2020 Town ballot.

The Library hosted a Public Information Meeting on Sunday, Feb.9 about the accessibility improvements, to be voted at Town Meeting on March 3. You will find the full presentation and plan drawings here.

We have received several important questions about the project which we are happy to answer. Please contact us with your additional questions.

Q & A:

What inspired this project?

The project was born of compassion and respect for people with disabilities and the law that protects them. It is important to remember that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 is a civil rights law and not a building code. It requires state and local governments, businesses and non-profit organizations to provide goods, services and programs to people with disabilities on an equal basis with the rest of the public. Current accessibility to the Library does not meet this litmus test.

How did this project come about?

In 2002, the Preservation Trust of Vermont (PTV) gave the Town of Pawlet a grant to help fund the conversion of the old schoolhouse into the new library. As a condition of this funding, PTV co-holds (along with the VT Housing & Conservation Board) a Preservation Easement on the Pawlet Library. Each year the PTV inspects the library facility, inside and out. In 2016, after 13 years observing problems with Pawlet Library’s rear ramp, the PTV gave the Town of Pawlet a starter grant to hire Ralph Nimtz from NBF Architects to help with planning for the redesign of the access ramp. 

The Pawlet Public Library is the municipal library of the Town of Pawlet. The Town owns and maintains this public building. It is the Select Board that faces possible civil rights and personal injury lawsuits. The Select Board delegated responsibility to the member in charge of Town buildings to hire an architect to design and estimate an accessible entrance for the library building. The Select Board has put bond funding for the Library project before the voters on the March 2020 Town Ballot. The Library Board is committed to accessibility improvements that will ensure the Library provides equal and safe access for all and supports the new project design.

Is the current ramp ADA compliant?

While the ramp built 18 years ago at the back of the building meets the minimum requirements of the 1991 ADA standards for accessible design, it does not meet the recommended specifications. Its usability over the years has proven to be compromised by its 65-foot length and barely acceptable incline, its difficult entry to the main floor of the library, its lack of connection to the basement level, and its lack of protection from weather conditions.

Current ramp access does not comply with the ADA equal access provision of entering unassisted. Because of the ramp’s length, some patrons may require another person to push their wheelchair up the ramp and serve as the brakes for the wheelchair when it descends the ramp. Further, a person with disabilities must sit or stand on the incline of the ramp while waiting for someone inside to answer the doorbell and open the door, which swings outward. During winter months, snow and large chunks of ice often shed unexpectedly from the massive slate roof’s slopes and valleys and crash onto the ramp. This serious personal injury threat is unacceptable and has gone on too long, luckily without a serious incident.

The new project design provides an enclosed entrance at the east side of the building with a lift and stairs to both floors, and an accessible restroom on the lower level. (The kitchenette in the lower level will remain.) This addition provides a one-hour-rated fire exit enclosure for both floors of the building. The design gives equal and easy access to everyone, including those with mobility issues – from those with bad knees or recovering from surgery, to those using wheelchairs, walkers and canes, to parents with baby strollers.

Does the Library Board support this project? And does the Select Board support this project?

After evaluating multiple options, four members of the five-member Library Board voted to support this project. According to the Library’s By-laws, decisions are made by majority vote. Therefore, the Library Board supports this project. The Select Board unanimously voted to put the Library project on the Town Ballot.

Why not just add roof guards or cover the ramp?

The Library Board considered both of these options and concluded that neither would adequately solve the Library’s accessibility issues. The ramp would still be too long and too steep for some in wheelchairs and would still be exposed to the snow, rain, and wind. There would still be no appropriate access to the Matt Waite Room on the lower level. 

What award did the Library receive from the Preservation Trust of Vermont, one of the grant funders for the original renovation of the school into the Library?

Every year, the Preservation Trust of Vermont makes awards to its grantees. The award received in 2003 was given, not for the architect’s design or any aspect of the renovation, but rather to the Pawlet Projects Committee and the People of Pawlet for their work in raising funds to rehabilitate the former school for use as a new town library.

What is the difference between an elevator and a lift?

There is a considerable difference in cost between the two. Lifts are much less expensive and are adequate to serve two floors. The lift in this project has sides, but no ceiling, unlike an elevator in an enclosed shaft. It is a practical solution to a real problem.

How is the Library informing the Pawlet and West Pawlet Voters?

At its January meeting, the Board scheduled a public information meeting for February 9. The meeting has been announced on Front Porch Forum, Facebook, and by press release to area media. The Library mailed 350 letters about the meeting to Pawlet and West Pawlet residents who are active cardholders, volunteers, and donors to the Library since 2014 (when the cumulative list was begun) to explain the project and invite them to the information meeting. View a copy of the mailing by clicking the links below.

Has anyone ever complained about access to the lower level meeting room?

Yes, the Library has received complaints about access to the lower level meeting room. It has also received complaints about the ramp. In response to a recent opinion piece opposing the project, published in the Manchester Journal, the Library received two written complaints about the ramp, which the Library Board forwarded to the Select Board. The letters are part of the public record.

But let us be clear. No one with disabilities is required or expected to complain in order to have equal access to a public building. Please remember that the Americans with Disabilities Act is a federal civil rights law.

What about the front steps?

The Library Board supports repairing the front steps, as soon as possible, to make them safer and easier to use. The proposed addition creates a second entrance that is easier for everyone, including those with many types of mobility issues who find climbing the front exterior stairs and the interior stairs to the main floor difficult.

How much of the $295,000 bond for the project will be paid by grants?

Five funding agencies representing state, federal and private grantors attended a meeting at the Library on January 15, two weeks after the Select Board’s December 30 vote. The meeting was organized by the Vermont Community Development Program. All of the agencies voiced support and enthusiasm for the project and encouraged the Town to apply to their agencies. Matching requirements vary from allowable in-kind matches for such things as time spent by Town employees, and 50/50 matching, allowing one grant to match another grant. One agency only requires a five percent match, and another agency does not require a match. We anticipate grant funding of $100,000 -$150,000, which will cover a third to a half of the project cost. It is very likely that the $295,000 bond will be reduced by the grants received in the first year. Further, the USDA-Rural Development representative offered the Town a loan with a fixed rate of 2.75% for up to 30 years. But it is not possible to even apply for grants unless the Town votes Yes to Article I on March 3. A table is provided below to help taxpayers determine the impact the bond will have on their annual taxes.

How does funding the project affect the road budget?

Bonding is the time-honored way for Towns to spread a project’s cost over many years so that it has less impact on taxpayers per year. For instance, a taxpayer with property assessed for $150,000 would pay approximately $16.80 per year on a 20-year bond for $295,000 at 2.75% for the Library project. Obviously, this could be considerably less if grants underwrite part of the project cost. We do not know if bonding for road and highway improvements is being currently considered by the Select Board nor the amount of bonding that would be necessary.  The Library Board does not view this as an either/or proposition.

Can you love the library and still vote no to the project?

The Library supports the building addition to improve accessibility because it strongly believes in equal library access for all. The Library and its Board are committed to this cause and urge all who love the library to vote “Yes” on Article 1 on March 3.