City to improve handicap access

VERGENNES — The $75,000 the city of Vergennes recently received from Vermont’s Downtown Transportation Fund will help pay for improvements to the bus stop at the city’s major downtown intersection and fund a 160-foot handicap-access platform that will serve three Main Street businesses.
City Manager Mel Hawley said “pretty deteriorated” sidewalk stretching from Shear Cuts on Main Street around the corner almost all the way to Daily Chocolate on Green Street will also be replaced, with new granite curbing added.
The bus stop on the east side of Green Street next to Addison Outfitters will be improved with new benches and landscaping.
“We wanted to make it a more pleasant place to sit and wait for the bus,” Hawley said.
But the most noticeable improvement may be the Main Street handicap-access platform to be installed in front of Shear Cuts, Linda’s Apparel & Gifts, and Addison Outfitters.
It will function like those installed in front of the Stone and Basin blocks to the west on Main Street, and more recently to the nearby Park Squeeze and the former Commodore Grille. Street level access at the platform’s east end will allow wheelchairs to roll onto the platform and then into each of the businesses.
Hawley said the design calls for a Panton stone front like that platform, and he emphasized the private-public partnership of the project. Like the earlier projects, the expenses and the grant will be shared by the city and the owners of the buildings that house the three businesses.
“They aren’t just sidewalk projects. They are also projects done with a goal to get Main Street businesses handicap access,” he said.
The timetable and the exact costs each party will bear have yet to be determined. The preliminary estimate came in at $166,000, Hawley said, but he hopes by offering a flexible schedule to construction firms that he can lure a lower bid. The request will allow the work to be done after Memorial Day this year, Vergennes Day this year, or Memorial Day next year.
“We really want to get competitive pricing,” he said.
The city will pay the lion’s share of the overall cost. Building owners will pay for half the cost of the platform, once that expense has been pinned down in the final bid, Hawley said.
The project will not have a direct impact on the city’s tax rate — Hawley said aldermen plan to tap the city’s Tower Fund to pay for Vergennes’ share. That fund, dedicated to downtown improvements, is sustained by rental payments from cell phone companies who hang broadcast equipment from the former Vergennes water tower.
Vergennes is eligible for transportation enhancement grants like this one and those that paid for the earlier platforms and sidewalk replacements because it is Designated Downtown.
Vergennes was approved as a Designated Downtown because it has a capital improvement plan, it has a historic district on the recognized national list, and a organization — the Vergennes Partnership — charged with overseeing the health of the city’s downtown.
Reporter Andy Kirkaldy is at [email protected].

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