Marblehead's Old Town House, which dates back to before the American Revolution, is not handicapped accessible, which means it cannot be used for public meetings or as a polling location, as it had been for more than two centuries.
The Town House is currently “mothballed,” said Board of Selectmen Chairman Jim Nye, because it is not accessible to all.
At Town Meeting last month, residents sat through a brief PowerPoint presentation detailing plans to make the 284-year-old building universally accessible and residents voted in favor of appropriating $667,793 for a project that would install a three-floor elevator and two handicapped accessible bathrooms by a margin of 571 to 45.
At the meeting, proponents for the accessibility project argued that the cost to each Marblehead household would only be about $64 to fund the project and some shared stories of occasions when disabled town residents and visitors couldn't tour the building because they simply couldn't get up the stairs.
Those speaking out against the project included former Finance Committee member Jack Buba, who said he didn't feel the project was one that needed immediate attention and that it wasn't a good idea to spend on unnecessary endeavors when the state economy is still in recovery.
"Why now? The economy hasn't gotten any better and this is not an emergency," Buba said, adding "This is well over a half of a million dollars and we just can't afford it."
In response, departing Selectman Bill Woodfin II shared a story of a time when an elderly relative couldn't visit the third floor of the Town House because of a lack of accessibility and said the town had an obligation to "spend a little money to do the right thing."
"The fact is, ladies and gentlemen, that this is our cradle of liberty and no one should be denied the chance to see it," Woodfin said.
Three members of the Board of Selectmen said if the funding is approved for the Town House, work would not start until the fall. They said they would accept any donations toward renovating the historic Town House.