New court facility to be more accessible

New Whitehall town and village court accessible to handicapped and to everyone

Is the new Whitehall town and village court, shortly to be completed, handicapped accessible?

Well, if you don’t believe the handicapped should climb an L-shaped flight of narrow stairs, past a blackened radiator, then the new courtroom indeed is accessible to everyone.

Village Trustee Ken Bartholomew, who has overseen construction of the new court facility, took a final tour of the old courtroom, which is approachable only up that L-shaped staircase, past that black radiator, which had, over the winter, sprung a leak, staining a slate-gray carpet.

The old courtroom upstairs is well-appointed, and no doubt gives off an unmistakable air of history and nostalgia. The judge’s bench, for example, has been kept as well polished as the newly varnished justice bench in the new courtroom.

The ceiling and baseboard are painted white and show signs of frequent re-paintings. The offices for the justices are small but serviceable and both have state-of-the-art computers.

But historic or not, well-cared for or not, the old courtroom’s accessibility is nil.

“There is no fire escape,” Bartholomew said. “The only entrance is the ground floor staircase. If there is a fire upstairs, you have to climb out the windows.”

New courtroom on ground floor and open to all

Progress on completion of the new courtroom has slowed slightly in the last few weeks, primarily because staining, varnishing, installation of new plumbing fixtures –– all those finishing touches –– takes time.

And the principal master craftsman on the job is Jim Austin, a skilled carpenter and village employee. Anyone can see Austin moving back and forth between an electric miter or “chop saw” and the courtroom interior, fitting molding to the judge’s bench, staining the new pine doors on the left-side, or applying the grout for a variegated stone tile to top the three-foot partition that divides spectators from officers of the court.

Most days, one can drop right in on Austin, since the courtroom has a three-foot wide door leading directly onto the street. Bartholomew said that all doors in the new courtroom were three-feet wide, the required width for handicapped accessibility.

“The courtroom is on the ground floor,” Bartholomew said. “Unlike the old courtroom, there are no stairs. The restrooms, brand new, have plenty of grab bars and the required higher toilets.”

Bartholomew pointed out that there is a ramp on both the left and right side of the judge’s bench. “That means if the judge is handicapped, he can get to his bench on his wheelchair,” Bartholomew said.

Double the size of the old courtroom

“Now, I’ve never measured the square footage myself,” Bartholomew said, when the talk turned to the size of the new courtroom. “But at a minimum, the size of the new courtroom is double that of the old one.”

As for exits, Bartholomew said there were two formal exits. One of them is the aforementioned street-door entrance. But since there are doors leading directly to the police station on one end, and a door into the yet-to-be-built village board quarters on the other end, there are at least four exit doors, all handicapped accessible, in total.

Bartholomew, who is as anxious as anyone else for the grand opening, said he believed the town and the village had “provided” what was needed not only for the handicapped, but also for the general public.

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