Art gallery to become barrier free

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Council approves $1 million funding for project

A project to install a wheelchair ramp and elevators at the Art Gallery of St. Albert could begin as early as next year.

At the Nov. 24 budget meeting, council members voted unanimously to make $1.1 million available to begin the work at the gallery to make it barrier free. The gallery is located in the historic Banque d’Hochelaga building on Perron St.

“As an organization, we’re really pleased this is finally happening, and that everybody can access the gallery,” Arts & Heritage Foundation director Ann Ramsden said.

She said she has heard from many residents that the two-storey gallery is difficult to access for people in wheelchairs, pushing strollers, and those with other mobility-related concerns.

Coun. Tim Osborne proposed a motion during budget deliberations that would see the city fund 70 per cent of the project beginning in 2017, with the remaining funding coming from grants.

He argued it was embarrassing that a city-owned building was not accessible to all citizens. He recounted a story of a recent art opening where the artist, who is confined to a wheelchair, had to be carried into the gallery to see her work on display.

“When I heard that story, I was horrified,” he said. “What we have here is a real opportunity to finally address this challenge.”

Coun. Bob Russell said he saw this project as a necessary investment – the building is owned by the city, and even if the art gallery moves to a larger location at some point in the future, the city will still own this building.

“I want to support this in the strongest possible way,” he said. “This is a public building, it’s an art gallery, and it has to be barrier free.”

Ramsden presented the proposal to make the art gallery barrier free at the Sept. 26 meeting, which came following a $10,000 study council had approved in the 2016 budget.

The structure was built in 1920, with additions in 1955 and 1966, at a time when barrier-free access wasn’t required in the building code.

Grant funding could be available now that the city has committed to paying 70 per cent of the projected $1.5-million cost. Grant options include the Canada Cultural Spaces Fund that expects to grant $160 million across the country.

“We have been talking to granting agencies, and all the indications have been very positive that we should get funding,” Ramsden said. “The important things when trying to secure provincial and federal funding is you get the municipality to buy in first.”

She added making the space barrier free will help ensure the gallery can stay in its location for the short to medium term, which will have a positive effect on the city’s current downtown revitalization efforts.

A final draft of the city’s 2017 budget is scheduled to come to council Dec. 12 for final approval.

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Doug Neuman