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Prom. Point task force tackles accessibility issue

Hyde Park Herald, January 29, 2003. by Todd Spivak

Roughly three dozen Hyde Parkers gathered last week to suggest ways to make Promontory Point accessible to people with handicap disabilities.

"There's always a conflict when you mix a unique site like the Point with traditional accessibility requirements," said John McGovern, an expert in applying the Americans with Disabilities Act to outdoor recreational areas, who fielded questions at the meeting held inside University Church [sic! HP Neighborhood Club], 5655 S. University Ave.

Convened by the Task Force for Promontory Point, the local group has made significant strides in drafting a revetment plan for the Point that would save the limestone rather than bow tha the City's plan to pave the pak peninsula at 55th Street with step-stone cement.

Late last year, a renowned coastal engineer hired by the task force announced his findings that the Point's limestone could be salvaged or replaced for a fraction of the cost estimated by the City.

But central to the city's plan to restore nearly eight miles of the Chicago lakefront is the mandate to make all levels handicap accessible.

Though some protesters have called the mandate a "smokescreen" that will enable the city to do as it pleases, task force chairman Jack Spicer said his group is taking the accessibility requirement seriously.

Attended by Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th), the meeting drew together people with disabilities from throughout the community who voiced their own suggestions for how the Point could be made more manageable for them.

Some complained the parking lot was too far from the Point and the grade leading to it too steep--issues unlikely to be addressed in the City's revetment plan.

Judith Mitchell, a Hyde Parker for 40 years, suggested installing an area on the north end of the Point with "steps and a side railing" leading down to the water. "I don't know the mechanics of it, but maybe it could be like you see in pools and resorts," said Mitchell.

This suggestion was echoed by many who said they would like to see certain areas of the Point made more easily accessible to the water. "But," said Martha Younger-White who serves as co-chairman of a disability task force for University Church, "we don't necessarily need all areas of the Point made like that."

The meeting was a success, according to McGovern. "The reason we wanted to have a meeting was to talk about how people use the Point: whether to fish, picnic, sunbathe or go for walks. All those activities need to be considered in the design."


Final Point report is complete; access is next

Hyde Park Herald, December 18, 2002. by Gabriel Piemonte

Final report highlights

At 55 pages--plus attachments--coastal engineer Cyril Galvin's Final Report to the promontory Point Task Force may not be bedside reading for everyone. To see the full report, go to Here are a few highlights:

"[I]t is feasible and relatively inexpensive to repair and preserve the...stepstone revetment of limestone blocks...[this] should be implemented as soon as possible... (p. 2)

Availability of limestone:
"I have read through the specifications, and anticipate no problems in meeting the requirements of the project." (Duffe Elkins, Indiana Limestone Co., Inc., p. 29)
"We would be willing and are capable of supplying you with the limestone for this project." (Harry "Steve" Cummings, Independent Limestone Co., LLC, p. 30)

"Reed Quarries, Inc. has the capability and willingness to supply the stone." (Edward Reed Quarries Inc., p. 31)
"As you are aware by your visit to our quarry we have the ability to supply the material in the quantities shown in your proposal. We are interested in possibly supplying the material.." (Ralph Morgan, Elliott Stone Co., Inc., p. 32)

Government experts
"Responses of the government's design engineers...fall into three classes:

"To summarize these comments on the very important question of access at Promontory Point for persons with disabilities, I recommend the following: highlight the concrete platform as a destination for those in wheelchairs; consider the round trip experience for such persons in any design; explore the possibility of balloon-tired wheelchairs for use on the promenade.. (p. 15)

The final word on preservation of Promontory Point's limestone revetment by a recognized expert on shoreline protection arrived last week.

And the word is yes.

Coastal engineer Cyril Galvin, hired by a group of Hyde Parkers opposed to the city's plan to build a concrete and steel wall at the Point, has issued a final report that not only proves the preservation case, but scolds the city for not knowing its own lakefront.

The alternative plan proposed by Virginia-based Galvin refutes the city's claims for its own concrete-and-steel plan on everything from decay to accessibility to cost.

Members of the Promontory Point Task force and other preservationists are calling the report a resounding victory that definitively proves feasible the all-limestone preservation plan that has brought hundreds of Hyde Parkers to meetings with city and Army Corps of Engineer officials.

"This is a very powerful response," said preservationist architect Frank Heitzman."There's nothing left on the table after this report."

"Mr. Galvin's report shows very conclusively that the limestone revetment can be repaired," agreed task force member Jack Spicer. "It should be the last word on limestone versus concrete."

The revetment project is part of a $300 million, federally funded restoration project that spans the entire City of Chicago lakefront.

"Statements about Promontory Point made by government officials and their engineers are demonstrably wrong a surprising amount of the time," according to the report.

A Department of Environment representative said the department, along with the park district and Army Corps, will respond to the report within "the next few weeks."

"The government's engineers demonstrate a surprising lack of knowledge about the Point, an area where they recommend construction of a $22 million structure which moves the perimeter of the Point into depths that will be subject to higher, more destructive waves," continues the report.

Among the city's assertions rejected by Galvin is a claim that the bill for limestone preservation would be $22 million, not Galvin's $4.5 million calculation. Galvin references a phone conversation in which the city's consulting engineers described the figure as "a knee jerk reaction" and that the engineers "had no specific estimate."

"Our design, Galvin tersely notes in the report, "is based on facts at the site, acceptable design principles, and quantitative calculations, within the constraint of the budget. We do not deal in 'knee-jerk reactions.'"

The city's silence in the face of a claim by Galvin that key data--erosion rates at the Point--justifying the larger, rigid, concrete-and-steel city plan are simply wrong casts a long shadow on the project, according to task force member Connie Spreen.

"The exaggerated erosion rates revealed in the Galvin report call into question not only the urgency to encase the Point in concrete but also the justification given to Congress for funding the entire lakefront project," Spreen said.

Meanwhile, another round of experts, including Heitzman, will be called in over the next couple months to tackle the question of universal access and produce plans detailing an all-limestone preservation plan for the Point.

Universal access is the top priority of the task force in the next couple months and the plans Heitzman and fellow architect Wayne Tjaden will produce will provide access to people "with all sorts of disabilities, in a broad range of activities from strolling to swimming." according to a statement.

Finally, the task force and architects will consult with John McGovern, an attorney and leading expert on disabled access. McGovern, who could not be reached by Herald press time, has published a handbook for American[s] with disabilities Act (ADA) compliance for Illinois Park Districts, has served on the Illinois parks and recreation legislative committee for seventeen of the past nineteen years and represented the National Recreation and Park Association on every federal advisory committee regarding recreation and the ADA.

"He's an expert in accessible recreation--he has spent his entire career learning about it," Heitzman said, adding that his additional expertise in outdoor recreation makes him a rare find.

"He's go experience in both of these areas, and he's pretty much the only person in the country who does," Heitzman said.