Forum Connect

1.  Accessibility and Preservation

Posted 9 days ago
Accessibility is the focus of my consulting practice, so I'm knowledgeable about NPS and ADA accessibility standards. Couple that with the fact that visiting historic house museums has always been one of my favorite pastimes and I notice the balancing act that goes on between accessibility and historic preservation. It seems like most managing entities have decided that the proper response is to preserve the maximum historic integrity of an historic site by implementing the minimum ADA requirements and accept  that not all visitors will have full access.

On the other hand, my view is that the goal should be to provide maximum accessibility for visitors while preserving as much historical integrity as possible while achieving this primary goal.

My reasoning consists of two factors: First, from an equal rights standpoint, the experience of our history does not belong just to the able bodied, and, second, from a preservation standpoint, the historic site experienced modifications due to technological innovation during its period of use and should not be shielded from it now, as long as accessibility modifications are accomplished with as much sensitivity as possible.

Anyone have thoughts?


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Jim Sparks
Living At home LLC
Glasgow KY
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2.  RE: Accessibility and Preservation

Posted 8 days ago

TPS offers great guidance for meeting ADA and the Standards:

Preservation Brief 32: Making Historic Properties Accessible
Planning Successful Rehabilitation Projects, Codes-Technical Preservation Services, National Park Service
https://www.nps.gov/tps/standards/applying-rehabilitation/its-bulletins/ITS53-Additions-Accessibility.pdf

For tax credit projects, I try to steer developers in the direction of the reasonable access provision under ADA, which usually depends on the proposed use of the building.  This provision does not mean that no access is provided to upper floors; it means that you must have material on the first floor, such as video or interpretive materials, that allow the visitor to experience the entire property, even those areas that aren't accessible.  For some properties, this just isn't possible due to other circumstances, such as cultural affiliation. For example, the Muskogee (Creek) Nation Council House (an NHL) in Okmulgee, Oklahoma is undergoing a historic rehabilitation for tax credits.  Because the tribe considers the second floor spaces its primary spaces, accessibility must be allowed for tribal elders. As a result, a wheelchair lift is being inserted discreetly into a corner.  This is also necessary because the Council House is the center of the downtown square in Okmulgee; thus, an elevator tower really is not an option.  Otherwise, we prefer developers provide accessibility by inserting elevators into more secondary spaces, such as the back of an historic downtown commercial building that is being rehabilitated for mixed use with residential on the second and third floors.  If there is an alley, then an elevator tower could be incorporated in a way that meets the Standards.  This is especially important for those developers coupling the historic tax credits with other incentives such as LIHTC and New Markets.

ADA compliance is another good reason why each tax credit project must be considered on a case-by-case basis.

In the end, if it's private money, then the Standards don't have to be met.  Thus, you can put an elevator or wheelchair lift where ever you want to put it.  We always steer folks in the direction of the guidance provided by TPS hoping that they'll make a decision that is compatible with their building.

I hope this helps.



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Jennifer K. Bailey
Historic Preservation Specialist
Oklahoma State Historic Preservation Office
Oklahoma City, OK
405-522-4479
jbailey@okhistory.org
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3.  RE: Accessibility and Preservation

Posted 6 days ago
Thanks, but my comments were specifically about historic house museums which are often owned and/or managed by public agencies or private nonprofits.

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Jim Sparks
Living At Home LLC
Glasgow KY
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4.  RE: Accessibility and Preservation

Posted 5 days ago
Edited by Jennifer Bailey Williams 5 days ago
The Creek Nation is pursuing tax credits for the Council House in Okmulgee because it will house its museum.  Regardless of the end use or the owner, the TPS website still offers excellent guidance for meeting ADA and other life safety requirements without compromising the integrity of the building.  Either way, there's nothing preventing a non-profit or local government from making any changes it needs to in order to meet ADA goals, unless, of course, you're pursuing HTCs, using federal funds (including sub-grants, permitting, and licensing), or restricted by some other means such as a facade easement.

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Jennifer K. Bailey
Historic Preservation Specialist
Oklahoma State Historic Preservation Office
Oklahoma City, OK
405-522-4479
jbailey@okhistory.org
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5.  RE: Accessibility and Preservation

Posted 2 days ago
Jim,

I too am interested in accessibility and preservation. When ADA first came out, I was in college and began working in a lab that surveyed the entire university campus for accessibility. I also had an opportunity to work with my professor on a project related to accessibility at a historic site. Since that time, my understanding and appreciation of universal design has only grown. I agree with you: it seems not all historic site stewards are inclined to go above and beyond the minimum requirements. But it's also true that one of the most challenging things to do is balance all of the public needs, including preservation.

As Jennifer already noted, there are often regulations, standards, or other requirements that must be followed when it comes to the most likely sources for preservation funding. Thankfully, the Rehab Standards and guidelines do have great advice on some of the most common accessibility issues. But they don't even begin to touch universal design (nor should they necessarily do so).

When I look at this issue I typically approach it from two different directions: 1) from the preservation/history standpoint: what is the property's significance or what is the property trying to convey (also, what is the property's purpose) and 2) from the access standpoint: what sort of access is necessary/desirable to convey that significance appropriately. Is maximum accessibility necessary? [Is it necessary for visitors to be in the space in order to understand the story?] What historic fabric might be lost to gain that access? [Will placing an elevator in a secondary space make it impossible to tell the story of an estate's servants, for example?] If the purpose of a historic site is to interpret 19th century stories, it is much more difficult to find solutions than it would be for a property that is being used as a home or offices. But it's never impossible, thanks to flexibility on both ends.

It's an ongoing conversation, I think, and "access" is just one of the components of inclusion that needs to be addressed. Thankfully, concepts related to universal design and preservation both evolve over time. My hope is that we just keep both headed in the right direction.

Barbara


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Barbara Howard
Stonebridge Learning, LLC
Minneapolis MN
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