One of the drawbacks of older buildings is the barriers they present to persons with disabilities, the aged and those with limited mobility. The situation applies especially to some of our places of worship. St. Elizabeth parish has now taken further action to remedy the condition at their church on Leaside Avenue.
Over the past few years there have been many discussions amongst parishioners as to how to overcome the barriers. The position of the church building, so close to the street, left insufficient space for a ramp at the main entrance of the church. Only two other access points were available. Sketches had been prepared by a local architect which would have seen a covered ramp between the church itself and the rectory, gaining access through the link between the buildings.
The second option was for a more indirect route along the eastern side of the church (parallel to Merivale Road) and entering through a little-used doorway. Each option had its distinct advantages and disadvantages.
In the end, the parish council decided to proceed with the second option.
Access to the ramp is from the corner of Leaside and Merivale, along a pathway to the sturdy, wooden incline. At the top, a large deck provides ample space to turn and enter the church through new, large doors.
Pastor Fr. Dan Dubroy is anxious to see how much use will be made of the ramp. There is a feeling amongst his congregation that several individuals no longer attend celebrations at the church because of the barrier presented by the stairs. The parish wishes to extend a warm welcome to anyone looking for easier access to the church to use the new ramp to join the parish events in the church.
Old foundation exposed
The construction of the ramp had an interesting historical twist. The excavation for the supporting structure for the ramp brought to the surface some dirt and a lot of rubble. Some members of the congregation familiar with the history of the parish recalled that the site was the original location for St. Peter's Anglican church which is now situated on the opposite side of Merivale Road. The property had been purchased in the 1960s by the St. Elizabeth congregation, the previous church demolished and the present building constructed over the old foundations.
The ramp's excavation work had uncovered portions of the original church's foundations and floor. Even some of the old floor tiles could be seen. This actually was of benefit to St. Elizabeth's as the existence of the old floor meant the need to construct footings for the ramp's support was not required, thus reducing costs.
Additional access being considered
Inspired by the completion of this task, the parish is looking into ways to make the downstairs hall accessible as well. The challenge is particularly acute due to the narrow, steep stairwells which service the hall. Initial cost estimates for installation of a chair lift have proven beyond the church's financial capacity at this time.
However, given the demographic trends to an older population, the church will continue to seek ways to service this important component of its congregation. The addition of a ramp, coupled with the church-level accessible washroom added late in 1998, have enhanced the opportunities for people to participate in the sacrifice of the Mass and other events in the church.