PHOTO CAPTION: City Manager Karen Conard, Portsmouth Historical Society Board President Daniel Hoefle and Facilities Manager Robin Lurie-Meyerkopf cut ribbons officially opening the ”universally accessible” public restrooms at the Discover Portsmouth Welcome Center. (Photo: Raya on Assignment)
PORTSMOUTH—Marking the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the City of Portsmouth and the Portsmouth Historical Society (PHS) this week officially opened ”universally accessible” public restrooms, in the Discover Portsmouth Welcome Center, a city-owned building.
PHS board chair Dan Hoefle announced that the restroom project removed “the last barriers for the use of the Historical Society’s facilities for all members of the public, whether they be differently abled or not.” Hoefle observed that “at some point in each of our lives, whether we’re using a baby-stroller, a wheelchair, or a walker, we will all eventually need—and be entitled to—accommodation of our differing abilities, through elements of universal design.”
The project was a joint effort of the Portsmouth Historical Society with the City’s Community Development Department, which works with the Community Advisory Committee, and administers Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds provided by the federal government’s U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Construction work on the $250,000 project was made possible with generous supplemental funding from the New Hampshire State Council on the Arts’ Conservation License Plate Program (aka ”Moose Plate” fund). Planning of the project began with design work contributed by the Newfields firm, Martini Northern, LLC. Work was performed by the Laconia construction contractors Bonnette Page & Stone, with construction designs created by the Manchester firm, Dennis Mires PA, The Architects.
“The City of Portsmouth is strongly committed to universal accessibility,” declared Elise D. Annunciata, Community Development Coordinator and manager of the restroom project for the City. “We’re proud to have been able to complete this ADA-compliant project, despite challenges posed by the global pandemic.”
The upgrades of the restrooms in the Discover Portsmouth Welcome Center are part of the Portsmouth Historical Society’s efforts to make the entire facility accessible. Last year, with the support of the Portsmouth Rotary Club and Portland Glass, the Historical Society installed new ADA-compliant doors in the Welcome Center and its adjacent Academy Gallery, including automatic door-openers. An existing ramp provides access to the main lobby shared by the buildings, and an elevator provides access to the upper-level gallery.
The modern restrooms complement carefully-designed social distancing provisions and abundant hand-sanitizer that together have attracted back many of the Historical Society’s longtime fans to its current quilt exhibition, ”Threads”, soon to feature two ”Community Quilts” assembled from squares created by members of the public during their recent periods of self-isolation.
“The restrooms are now essentially complete,” observed PHS director Brian LeMay, “but we should probably not be surprised if the interiors continue to change a bit. There seems to be a distinct streak of whimsy among members of our exhibition and education staff, who have suggested that these might be appropriate places to capture the attention of visitors when they’re in a contemplative mindset, with modest exhibits on things like the history of plumbing or sanitation in Portsmouth. I suspect we may have some repeat visitation at these exhibits.”
About Portsmouth Historical Society
Founded in 1917, the Portsmouth Historical Society is a nonprofit institution devoted to promoting the significance of the past, the art, and the cultures of the Seacoast region, as well as the larger world in which Portsmouth has played a significant role. PHS maintains three primary facilities: the Discover Portsmouth Welcome Center, the Portsmouth Academy Gallery, and the John Paul Jones Historic House Museum. It’s also home to the Portsmouth Advocates for Historic Preservation, and the Portsmouth Marine Society Press. For information on its current exhibition of quilts, “Threads: A Community Quilt for 2020,” or about becoming a member, a volunteer, or contributor, visit the Society’s website www.portsmouthhistory.org or call 603-436-8433.