Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Access ramp will blight Osgoode Hall, critics argue - Toronto Star

Access ramp will blight Osgoode Hall, critics argue
Project delay sought by city's heritage office
October 02, 2007
Donovan Vincent
City hall bureau

An access ramp set to be built next year in front of the Osgoode Hall courthouse should be delayed because it would have a "serious negative impact'' on the building's architectural heritage, say Toronto's preservation department.

The provincially owned building, which houses the Law Society of Upper Canada, the Great Library and Convocation Hall as well as the Ontario Court of Appeal and Superior Court of Justice, was designated a national historic site in 1979.

The $1.5 million ramp project by Ontario Realty Corp. is to start next April.

But the city's heritage and planning departments are calling for a deferral.

A report put before the Toronto and East York community council today argues "the proposed new barrier-free entranceway will cause the porch to cover, obscure and alter the formal proportions of the carefully composed classical fa├žade.''

It calls the Queen St. W. landmark "one of Canada's most significant architectural and historic treasures and ... possibly the most significant heritage building owned by the province."

The proposed ramp design includes new steps, a guardrail and sloped walkway with curbs.

A spokesperson said the heritage department isn't against making Osgoode more accessible, but wants a more suitable design.

But any design will face "some very significant constraints," said heritage officer Mary MacDonald. "They have to do with the cobblestone, the size of the entrance, the distance that's required in order to have the right ramp slope."

Given these difficulties, she said her department isn't sure whether a proper design is even possible.

MacDonald argues the project can wait until a provincial committee can issue new guidelines for buildings under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act.

Ontario Realty Corp.'s Jim Butticci said the project will proceed because "it's a fundamental right of all people to be able to enter Osgoode Hall in a manner that is equal, independent and dignified."

Toronto lawyer David Harris, who has acted for many disabled clients, said in his view "accessibility trumps heritage concerns.''
This article is the intersection of two hot issues, and issues that I both support. Accessibility is critical to make a socially just and universally livable city, but at the same time, genuine historical preservation is necessary to preserve a city's identity and prevent it from becoming a faceless metropolis.

I don't know the answer to this question, but I do know that this will set an important precedence.

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