The borough of Somerville adopted its memorializing resolution to give final approval for the construction of an addition to the home of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Somerset Hills on June 18. The primary purpose is to add an elevator in the rear to make the building at 123 East Cliff Street accessible to all. The additional benefits will be two wheelchair-accessible bathrooms, new staff offices, permanent walls for classrooms, and a new, more efficient HVAC system.
The congregation had planned for this project as soon as they purchased the building in 2010. They had specifically pledged not to formally dedicate the building until it was accessible to all. “At many of our services, we light a candle and say, ‘Our congregation is working to remove all barriers so that those who are differently-abled can participate fully in our faith community,'” said Rev. Jennifer Kelleher. “When our building is accessible to those with mobility concerns…it will reflect the warmth and care of our hearts and the justice and equity of our Unitarian Universalist values.”
The building will most likely still be used during the construction that is planned for July 2014. A commercial grade elevator will be installed in the middle of the new back wall. New and more spacious offices for the minister and administrators will be built on either side of the elevator on the top level. Two wheelchair-accessible bathrooms will be built on the basement level. Also at that level, where religious education for children is now held between temporary dividers, permanent walls between the pillars will be built. The new HVAC system will replace very old equipment and will be more efficient and less costly.
The parking lot will have lines painted for spaces and will have designated handicap spots.
Congregant Ann Poskocil is among those who will directly benefit from the elevator. “It will be a blessing. And the easy access it will provide will break down a barrier that may be prohibiting some folks from joining us in this very special congregation.” June Adams finds trouble using the stairs herself, but “my problems don’t amount to a hill of beans compared to that of a friend in a wheelchair. I look forward to a time when he will be able to join us on a Sunday morning.”