Upgrade to make chamber handicap accessible

Published 5:00 am Monday, October 13, 2008

A three-year battle to make the Brookhaven-Lincoln CountyChamber of Commerce handicap accessible without altering itshistorical appearance may finally be coming to a close.

Cliff Brumfield, the chamber’s executive vice president, saidthe Mississippi Department of Archives and History last weekapproved construction plans for handicap access for the secondtime, pending changes by architect Albert and AssociatesArchitects, PA of Hattiesburg.

The project should begin early in the new year.

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Chamber officials have been working with MDAH to find a way toinstall a handicap ramp on the building under the department’sstrict historical guidelines. The effort has been particularlyimportant – and complex – because as a historic building, thechamber cannot be modified.

The chamber, however, also serves as the City Hall precinct formainly downtown residents and – as a polling place – must becompliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“We have to find a way to incorporate the items that willaccommodate the people who need them for access to the building,”Brumfield said.

Lincoln County Circuit Clerk Terry Lynn Watkins said handicapvoters assigned to the chamber participate in “curbside voting,”where a ballot is placed in a metal sleeve and taken outside sothat a handicapped voter may make his mark without having to enterthe building.

Once the vote is cast, the paper ballot is placed back in thesleeve and taken inside to the ballot box.

Brumfield said the remodeling project is being funded by a$297,000 congressional appropriation.

“Once it’s cleared, we’ll advertise for bids and move forward,”he said. “We anticipate the project to be advertised sometime earlyin 2009, if not sooner.”

Bringing the chamber up to ADA specifications will require theconstruction of an interior elevator to the second floor, remodeledrestrooms and the installation of a wheelchair ramp.

Installing an elevator will cost approximately $100,000,Brumfield said, and most of the federal funds will be consumed incompleting the rest of the project.

“We’re hoping to have a little left over – we’ll be writing acouple of options into the bid specifications hoping we’ll haveadditional funds to help with aesthetic improvements,” he said. “Asone of the historic buildings in downtown Brookhaven, it’simportant that the chamber be attractive and fully functional.”

Brumfield said chamber officials are continuing to pursuefederal funding for aesthetic improvements to the building, whichwill be much less costly. The timing for such a project, however,is not good.

“Concerning the economy and the focus on eliminating unnecessaryexpenditures in the federal budget, it may take some time tocomplete the next phase,” Brumfield said.