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St. Lawrence County Surrogate Building to gain accessibility

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CANTON — The St. Lawrence County Surrogate Building — home to the Board of Elections and the Public Defender’s Office — will gain partial accessibility for the disabled by this fall.

The county has intended for years to bring the building at Judson and Court streets into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, but the work never materialized.

Former Canton resident Mildred M. Whalen, a recipient of a Harriet Tubman Humanitarian Award for her work on behalf of the powerless and the persecuted, was the first in 2003 to write a letter to the county Board of Legislators about the building’s lack of access for the disabled, but there have been a number of other complaints before and after Mrs. Whalen’s formal notification.

The Board of Elections wants to make it as easy as possible for people to vote, Democratic Election Commissioner Jennie H. Bacon said.

“It’s not a good thing to discourage,” she said. “The accessibility to our office is a challenge every year.”

This summer, a ramp will be built and several other changes made to improve the building’s accessibility using part of a $255,654, three-year grant obtained by Public Defender Stephen D. Button through the state Office of Indigent Legal Services.

Using a design by Bernier, Carr & Associates, Watertown, the front steps will be replaced and a ramp will hook around the building, said county Governmental Services Director Michael J. Cunningham, who is in charge of managing the county’s buildings. A second door in the foyer will be removed, making it easier for a wheelchair to maneuver.

“The landing will be larger than it is now,” he said.

The improvement does not include an ADA-compliant bathroom. Part of a conference room on the first floor will be segregated for the Public Defender’s office, which is on the second floor and reachable only by stairs.

Visitors to the building, which is locked, are buzzed in after they identify themselves through an intercom, keeping with an entrance policy for other police and court offices. A decision has not been made yet whether that will continue, Mr. Cunningham said.

“It’s a challenge in that building because it’s mixed use,” he said.

Before the Board of Elections becomes busy with petition filings, primaries and this year’s general election, it is moving Wednesday to the second floor of the Human Services Center on Route 310.

“We couldn’t move during all that,” Mrs. Bacon said. “For us to go, it had to be now.”

The Board of Elections will move back to its old space after the November election. Voting machines and training of election inspectors will remain in the old jail, which has a ramp.

The Public Defender’s Office will move later before construction starts, probably also to the Human Services Center, but that decision has not been made yet, Mr. Cunningham said.

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