By Jordan Stewart
Old Town Hall sits quietly on South Road off Great Road, former home of Bedford Center for the Arts and current home for Bedford Community Access TV. Admired by many for its historical charm, the proposal to change any feature of the building was sure to be met with caution and attentiveness.
This proved to be the case when the discussion of renovations was raised at the Annual Town Meeting Monday night. Article 8 presented the Community Preservation Budget, which designates funds for renovations and improvements of significant public sites around the town. Part 12 of Article 8 sought to designate $452,000 for three components of the Old Town Hall: renovation of the Great Room, the addition of an ADA accessible entryway in the main entrance, and the renovation of the ground floor. Due to the differences among the three components, an amendment was voted to split Part 12 into three separate parts, each to be voted on independently. The Great Room funding passed with little debate, being granted $120,000 for the 2020 year.
More divisive, however, was the addition of an ADA accessible ramp to the front door for $167,000. Currently, the main entrance is out of use because it is non-ADA accessible. The back entrance of the building, which features a small parking lot and accessible entrance to a ground floor elevator, is used as the primary door for the building. Installation of an ADA accessible entry in the front would allow the door to be utilized by the public. This benefit was among the driving forces for this project. Concerns arose from citizens that the addition of the ramp would diminish the aesthetic of the historic building and that surrounding trees and buildings might be affected. Selectman Margot Fleischman addressed these worries, assuring that the ramp would run up the north side of the building, and no surrounding areas would be affected.
What primarily dampened the project’s prospects was the practicality of adding an ADA accessible ramp. While it would allow access for handicapped people through the front door, the remainder of the building would still be beyond reach, as no other floors are accessible from that entrance. Overall, the confusion and doubt surrounding the project was insurmountable, and the project failed to receive funding.
The third component was met a bit more welcomingly. It proposed $165,000 be allocated to renovate the first floor to create a space for historic archives to be stored, moving from their current storage place in the police station. The passing of this motion allows reconfiguration of the police station to begin.