Those with disabilities have been hindered from enjoying the Suffolk County Historical Society due to the steep stairs to enter the building and the lack of an elevator inside. A nearly decade-old plan to address that problem took a big step forward Friday with a groundbreaking for the new handicap-accessible wing.
“I’m really excited about serving the community because we are the ones who sit and witness people having a lot of physical difficulties getting in our doors,” executive director Vicki Berger said. “It’s painful for us to watch. Every time we see that it’s a reminder that we can do better.”
The $1 million project was funded in part by a $400,000 grant from the Robert David Lion Gardiner Foundation originally awarded in 2015. In December, the Long Island Regional Economic Development Council program awarded the historical society a $500,000 grant. Fundraising is ongoing for the remaining $100,000, but some money comes from the Kenneth J. Tedaldi Foundation and the Leo S. Walsh Foundation.
The new entrance wing to the building on West Main Street in Riverhead will have all handicap-accessible accommodations, like a ground-level entrance, handicap parking, ADA-compliant bathrooms and an elevator.
“In the shadow of all of our successes, we have dealt with one unfortunate, oppressive challenge,” Ms. Berger said. “Our building’s historic grand architectural features have presented as an obstacle for persons with physical challenges, preventing entry into our building.
“Today is our day for change,” she said.
Construction has already begun on the property and will not disrupt normal museum hours. The anticipated completion date is late summer.
Although introducing ADA-compliant features to the building has been in discussion for over 10 years, serious fundraising and plan drafting began six years ago.
Radon Construction will be the contractor overseeing the project, and the architectural design was led by Gary Jacquemin and Robert Stromski.
Councilwomen Jodi Giglio and Catherine Kent were in attendance for the groundbreaking, and shared their own stories.
“There’s so much rich history inside of this building that has been inaccessible to so many in Suffolk County, including myself when I came here for the Boy Scout trip and couldn’t make it down to the basement,” Ms. Giglio said, referring to an injury she had years ago.
Representatives from historical societies from the 10 towns in Suffolk County were also in attendance. County Legislators Al Krupski (D-Cutchogue) and Steve Flotteron (R-Brightwaters) reminisced about field trips with their children to the SCHS museum.
“It’s important to keep the history, and it’s important today, but it’s really super important tomorrow,” Mr. Krupski said. “To keep that interest in our young people so that they understand how important what happened in the past [is].”
Photo caption: Officials signal the start of construction on a new wing to the Suffolk County Historical Society Friday afternoon. (Credit: Rachel Siford)