Downtown Stairs Are Gone For Good

By: Tim Wood

Stairs leading from the town offices parking lot to the sidewalk that were removed last fall won't be replaced. People have taken to climbing up the bank between the parking lot and Yankee Ingenuity, in the background, which is causing erosion of the slope. TIM WOOD PHOTO

Parking Lot Steps Were A Safety Hazard

by Tim Wood

CHATHAM – Each fall, Yankee Ingenuity becomes the de facto downtown information booth after the small building that usually serves that purposes closes for the season.

“We're the nearest store,” said owner Jon Vaughan. This past fall, the most commonly asked question was when the stairs leading from the town offices parking lot to the Main Street sidewalk would be replaced.

“Three or four people a day would say what happened to the stairs,” Vaughan said.

The stairs, which were between the information booth and Yankee Ingenuity, were removed because they were not handicap accessible and were in poor condition and dangerous, said Natural Resources Director Robert Duncanson.

“People had tripped and fallen on them over the years,” he said. “The best thing to do frankly was to get rid of them.”

Don't expect the stairs to be replaced, he said. Instead, as part of a planned $1 million makeover of the town offices parking lot and the adjacent sidewalk area, a new sidewalk will wrap around the parking lot to the entrance so pedestrians will have a safe way to walk from their cars to the Main Street sidewalk.

Engineering for that work is currently being finalized, Duncanson said, but exactly when the project will be done is uncertain. It was to have coincided with anticipated emergency work on some downtown sewer lines, but repairs alleviate the immediate problem. Also, a $890,000 grant request from the MassWorks Infrastructure Program fell through, leaving the project without a funding source.

The stairs did not meet building or accessibility codes, Duncanson said. To make them comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act would have required a large ramp, which would have eliminated several parking spaces. Aside from being in poor repair, the stairs were slippery when wet and ended at a parking space, so they were often blocked by a vehicle.

“The town wants something that's safe and people aren't going to be tripping and falling on,” Duncanson said. “I don't think we're going to see the stairs back.”

Without the stairs, many people are making their way to the sidewalk by climbing up the embankment and squeezing through a gap between the fence along the sidewalk and the Yankee Ingenuity walkway. It's eroded the bank and exposed roots.

“It's now just basically a mud slide,” Vaughan said, adding that he was concerned because he's seen elderly people climbing up the slope.

The overall project involves repaving the parking lot and repairing drainage, as well as remaking the area around the information booth and relocating the booth back from the sidewalk. The resurfaced parking lot would have 85 spaces with new LED lighting; the MassWorks grant even proposed electric car charging stations.

Engineering and design funding is available but not construction money. Emergency funding for the sewer work was approved last year, but it was uncertain if the purpose could be stretched to include the sidewalk and parking lot work. The sewer work involved mains on Chatham Bars Avenue, which were some of the oldest in the system, Duncanson said. The bottom portions on some of the pipes had rotted away which was causing flow problems; instead of being replaced they were relined, which appears to have fixed the problem.

Because there is no longer an emergency, “we can take our time and plan it out better,” Duncanson said. Once plans are completed for the parking lot and sidewalk makeover, officials will figure out how to fund the project. “Those discussions haven't taken place yet.” When the work is done, it will be at about this time of year, he added, so as to cause the least disruption.

Vaughan is worried that there will be more problems if the current situation persists into the summer. At the least, he said, he hopes the town can close the gap in the corner between his property and the fence along the edge of the sidewalk so that nobody gets hurt trying to climb up from the parking lot.