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CAPS/BCIL Comments: Gardner Museum Project.  Boston, MA

CAPS/BCIL Comments: Gardner Museum Project. Boston, MA



Although the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum is completing a $57 million dollar project which includes placing a gorgeous new facility on the historic site and modernizing the historic Palace, they ...

Although the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum is completing a $57 million dollar project which includes placing a gorgeous new facility on the historic site and modernizing the historic Palace, they requested Variances to exempt them from modernizing certain details so that people with disabilities can have equal opportunities to work in, and visit this Museum, same as nondisabled people.

The MA Historical Commission supported their request for a Variance by stating,"The MHC has reviewed the proposed variance requests and believes that without the variance, a significant amount of historic fabric would be damaged, required to be removed, or completely altered beyond recognition. Additionally, the museum may find it impossible to meet the intent of Ms. Gardner's will and its mission."

This letter, a response from DisAbility Rights advocates to the Museum and MA Historical Commission, was sent to the State Board as testimony during the Gardner Museum's Variance Hearing, November 28, 2011.



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    CAPS/BCIL Comments: Gardner Museum Project.  Boston, MA CAPS/BCIL Comments: Gardner Museum Project. Boston, MA Document Transcript

    • November 28, 2011FROM: Boston Center For Independent Living & Community Access ProjectKaren Schneiderman, Senior Advocacy Specialist Eileen Feldman, Director60 Temple Place P.O. Box 434Boston, MA 02111 Somerville, MA 02143TO: MA Architectural Access BoardThomas Hopkins, Executive DirectorDonald Lang, ChairOne Ashburton Place - Room 1310Boston, MA 02108RE: Public Comments on Application for Variance, The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum280 the FenwayBoston, MA 02115Dear AAB Board and Staff,The Boston Center for Independent Living and the Community Access Project have a partnershipin reviewing, analyzing and providing comments and recommendations regarding architecturalaccessibility topics impacting the Greater Boston area. We submit the following commentsregarding the Variance Application for the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, sent to MA AAB onJuly 21, 2011.The Museum seeks a variance during ongoing reconstruction and preservation work of the historicPalace Building in order to exempt them from creating useable access for people using wheeledmobility devices in eight rooms, plus the elevator serving first through third floors; plus, to keep thehistoric handrails on the Main stairwell, which also serves First through Third floors, as-is.1. We ask that the variance regarding the Handrails for the Main Staircase (which serves the 1stthrough 3rd floors, as does the existing elevator) be granted.2. We ask that the Accessible Route decisions regarding the Buddha Room and Spanish Cloisterbe continued, so that the architects can examine all possible solutions, including raising andreinstalling the original floor, to create at least one ramped entry into this room while there is stillan opportunity (the already-planned complete rebuild/restoration of the Buddha Room1). Sincethese important sustainable design considerations may also affect a more durable and aestheticsolution for accessible route into the Spanish Cloister, we include that space for a continuance.3. We ask that the Elevator and Doorway Width portions of this Variance be denied, since askingwheelchair users to re-position themselves into narrower wheelchairs in order to save money onwidening and resetting doorways is about as competent as asking non-wheelchair users to re-1 page 7, text of the application states, "In addition, the Buddha Room will be reconstructed to itsoriginal form." page 1 of 6
    • position themselves in size 4 shoes prior to entering these six rooms. In addition, since the existingelevator is smaller than the minimal 48 by 48 inches standards required by some 21st centurywheelchair models, this elevators accessibility upgrade is a necessity to ensure access for abroader diversity of potential visitors and staff.4. We ask that the AAB question why the applicants include• Gallery Preparation (climate control, packing of objects for storage during reconstruction work),• Security and Operations (allowing outside contractors to work within the Museums public spaces), and• Reinstallation (reinstalling stored objects to the historic gallery spaces)as "additional" and "unique" costs in the applications pricing scheme, when applied to 21stCentury Accessibility upgrades;yet, these normative costs were not considered additionally burdensome when applied to non-Accessibility-related renovations in the historic Palace, such as: ! relocating an art installation at the south end of the east cloister; ! fully reconstructing the Buddha Room to its original form; ! completing a decade-long restoration of the Tapestry Room; ! installing new period-style pendant fixtures and fiber optic lights to improve the lighting in the Tapestry room, Yellow Room and other historic galleries; and ! recovering and reinstalling artifacts and other materials to be displayed "in the historical perspective as originally intended."5. We ask that the AAB question why the applicants tack on separate "architectural, legal andmanagement fees," for each element requiring Accessibility upgrades. This increases the cost forthese feasible renovations by 51%.Please see pages 5 and 6 for an element-by-element discussion of this questionable costingscheme.6. We request a fuller understanding of why the Applicants and the MA Historical Commissiondirector conceptualize certain Accessibility-related construction and renovation issues as theprohibitive "loss of historic features" within this "totally preserved" historic site, such as• moving and resetting the Tambour opening;• stockpiling and retoothing masonry;• reframing openings;• touch-up painting; and• rebuilding a jack archwhile, at the same time, the original site has been enormously transformed without equivalenthistoric preservation-related cautions, including the following: ! removing a total of 12,000 cubic yards of dirt from the site during excavation; ! installing eight geothermal wells, reaching depths of 1,500 feet to provide energy efficient page 2 of 6
    • heating and cooling in the new building; ! creating an entirely new building within 50 feet of the Palace; ! pouring 110 trucks-full of concrete to form the base of that new buildings foundation; ! relocating the Museums main entrance to Evans Way; and ! creating a new glass atrium entrance to wholly replace the original entrance in order to physically link the historic palace to the new facility.7. Finally, we question the presumption that the current stakeholders have any more ability todiscern the "original intent" of Ms. Gardners will than we or anyone else does.• We note that Ms. Gardners will created an endowment of $1 million for the preservation of the Museums objects; but that the language does not appear to prohibit necessary structural improvements that will allow persons with disabilities to enjoy equitable and integrated access and opportunities, side by side, with nondisabled members of the general public. Ms. Gardners will states, “I bequeath all my interest in the pictures, statuary, works of art, bric-a-brac, furniture, books and papers…in trust as a Museum for the education and enjoyment of the public forever.” – Will and Codicil of Isabella Stewart Gardner, 1924• We note that Ms. Gardners will also included "sizable bequests to the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, Industrial School for Crippled and Deformed Children, Animal Rescue League and Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals."2One of the writers of these comments is an alumnus of the "Industrial School for Crippled andDeformed Children"(renamed Cotting School).The "Industrial School for Crippled and Deformed Children" was founded during Ms. Gardnerslifetime (in 1893) as the nations first day school for students with disabilities.We dont believe that the Museums stakeholders, nor the Massachusetts historical Commission,has the capacity to presume to understand what Ms. Gardners considerations would be today,when it is considered standard and legitimate practice to find solutions to design challenges so thatpeople with disabilities are afforded non-discriminative, equal, integrated and usable builtenvironments that are, at the very least, minimally compliant with accessibility regulations, such as521 CMR, which has been enforced in Massachusetts since 1968.• We note that the applicants have interpreted Ms. Gardners will broadly enough to allow necessary modernizations of the buildings mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems, and to install new lighting fixtures, and to create a wholly new entrance that is linked to a wholly new building; yet, regarding Accessibility upgrades, such as widening doorways to allow potential staff and visitors who use wheelchairs into 6 galleries, the interpretation narrows to disallow the2 http://www.gardnermuseum.org/about/isabella_stewart_gardner page 3 of 6
    • expansion of door widths in lieu of "alternate accessibility by way of museum-provided wheelchairs and staff assistance."Such concepts overlay a definition of dependency upon an entire class of individuals. Thispreserves the historic devaluation of people with disabilities as substandard individuals, rather thankeeping pace with modernized 21st century human rights values and ideals.• We note the Mission Statement adopted by the Board of Trustees, 2000: Mission Statement The museum exercises cultural and civic leadership by nurturing a new generation of talent in the arts and humanities; by delivering the works of creators and performers to the public; and by reaching out to involve and serve its community. The collection is at the center of this effort as an inspiring encounter with beauty and art.Nothing in that statement tells us that the fullest inclusion and nurturance of the talents, enjoymentand employment of people with physical disabilities is outside of the scope of the Mission andgoals of this world-class Museum and programs.• Finally, we note that, while there is extensive mastery involved in this Project from the start, this application was prepared by the Projects Code Consultants, who are noted experts in fire protection, fire prevention and fire incident forensics- but not Universal Design and Architectural Accessibility. We strongly encourage the applicants to invest in hiring master architects who havedemonstrated knowledge in utilizing Universal Design and Architectural Accessibility principlesand codes in order to create usability solutions in the Buddha room, Spanish Cloister and linkedCourtyard passageways, and to check over the Projects existing designs at this time, when theMuseum is closed to the entire public, so that this Project can enable people from all over theworld with a diverse range of physical and sensory attributes to visit, work in, and learn from theGardner Museums offerings, without qualifications and exclusionary distinctions, for years tocome.Thank you for your attention.Sincerely,Eileen Feldman, Community Access ProjectCAPSom@verizon.netandKaren Schneiderman, Boston Center for Independent LivingKSchneiderman@bostoncil.org page 4 of 6
    • Argument that it is "impracticable" includes "architectural, legal and management fees," whichincrease the costing estimate as follows:Elevator ProjectIn order to enlarge the cab by 2 1/2", the existing cab will be removed. The total cost is estimatedat $203,695.The estimated sum of the "architectural, legal and management fees" is $102,517 = ~ 50% of thetotal estimated cost.Widening 5 Doorways to 32" :Gothic Room, Long Gallery, Dutch Room, West Cloister, McKnightRoom Gothic Room. In order to widen the door passage from elevator hall, the masonry openingand associated finishes would need to be altered and the wooden passage would need to bealtered and relocated. The total cost is estimated at $239,105.The estimated sum of the "architectural, legal and management fees" is $125,682 = ~ 53% of thetotal estimated cost. Long Gallery. In order to create an accessible doorway, the masonry passage would needto be widened and the finishes would need to be repaired and replicated. The total cost isestimated at $149,784.The estimated sum of the "architectural, legal and management fees" is $83,406 = ~ 56% of thetotal estimated cost. Dutch Room. In order to create an accessible doorway, objects would need to betemporarily removed and the interior finishes and wall fabric altered. The total cost is estimated at$213,310.The estimated sum of the "architectural, legal and management fees" is $119,715 = ~ 56% of thetotal estimated cost. West Cloister. In order to create an accessible doorway, the masonry opening would needto be disassembled and reconstructed, the deinstallation of a stone relief surround at the door, andthe possible relocation of an adjacent relief sculpture embedded in the south wall of the WestCloister. The total cost is estimated at $163,348.The estimated sum of the "architectural, legal and management fees" is $102,382 = ~63% of thetotal estimated cost. McKnight Room. In order to create an accessible entry to the gallery, two doors will needto be widened. The finishes surrounding both doors would need to be replicated Objects in thewallspace adjacent to the gallery would need to be removed and relocated. The total cost isestimated at $204,026.The estimated sum of the "architectural, legal and management fees" is $107,559 = ~53% of thetotal estimated cost. page 5 of 6
    • Accessible Route Compliance for the Spanish Cloister, Chinese Loggia and Buddha Room.The Variance states that lifts would be the least invasive, but would still require significantchanges, loss of historic features and "significant cost compared to the increase in accessibility."Actually, the creation of accessible routes would increase accessibility 100% for people thatrequire accessible routes, so the applicants appear to be saying that they subjectively do notconsider it a valuable investment to allow people who require accessible routes into these spaces.In addition, the Project has already integrated a complete re-build and re-installation for theBuddha room. Therefore, we are requesting that the Accessible Route variance portions becontinued so that the applicants have an opportunity to consider more up-to-date, aesthetic, anddurable solutions for this as well as the linked Spanish Cloister access. Spanish Cloister. In order to create any access for people using wheeled mobility devices,a platform and lift would be constructed at the north end of the Spanish Cloister, providing accessto the Chinese Loggia. Historic tile and finishes would be permanently covered in the SpanishCloister.The total cost is estimated at $209,694.The estimated sum of the "architectural, legal and management fees" is $96,271 = ~46% of thetotal estimated cost. Buddha Room. In order to create any access for people using wheeled mobility devices, alift would be provided from the Chinese Loggia into the Buddha Room. "The lift would occupy afootprint large enough that reinstallation of the gallery would not be feasible."The total cost is estimated at $205,770.The estimated sum of the "architectural, legal and management fees" is $95,930 = ~47% of thetotal estimated cost.Main Stairway - Making Handrails CompliantThis is the centerpiece stairway to the Palace Building, connecting the 1st through 3rd floors. Thehandrails are currently marble handrail/guardrail on inner side and a brass handrail on outer sideand are each 2 inches or larger in diameter.Since there is an existing elevator provided to the floors served by the stairway,it seems reasonable to grant this portion of the variance request rather than alter the historicfabric of the stairway.However, the code specialists once again create the impression that "architectural, legal andmanagement fees" are an extra costing; rather than integrating these into the cost of doingbusiness, which is to create a world-class museum.The total cost has been estimated at $95,966.The estimated sum of the "architectural, legal and management fees" is $32,244 = ~34% of thetotal estimated cost. page 6 of 6