Lisner renovations will not fix handicap accessibility issues

Historic Lisner Auditorium will undergo continued renovations this summer, but the 68-year-old building will not be updated with handicap-accessible entrances.

The auditorium, located at 730 21st St., has remained in use for professional and student performances during the construction that started last fall, but University spokeswoman Michelle Sherrard said further modifications will not address accessibility issues.

“The Lisner Auditorium was constructed prior to modern accessibility requirements and, with these types of buildings, the University analyzes accessibility issues based on what is generally feasible and what are the priorities,” Sherrard said.

The Americans with Disabilities Act was passed in 1990. Lisner Auditorium was completed in 1943 and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1990.

Sherrard said the University has analyzed the building’s accessibility and focused on ground floor modifications allowing access to the main entrance, ground floor restrooms and main-floor stage.

There is no elevator in the building to allow patrons to get to the lower level Dimock Gallery, and access to Lisner Downstage – a small black-box theater – is also limited.

“The accessibility challenge of the lower level is one of the reasons the University built a new, fully accessible black-box theater on Mount Vernon Campus in West Hall,” Sherrard said.

Blake Eisenberg, a junior and executive producer of student group Forbidden Planet Productions, said his group has only one show this season using the downstage theater at Lisner.

“All of the others have or will go up in the West Hall Theater,” Eisenberg said.

He said the ongoing work at Lisner has not affected FPP very much, but noted that handicapped accessibility was once an issue for a performance his freshman year.

Eisenberg said he and three other people helped carry an audience member confined to a wheelchair into the black-box theater.

“Luckily, we were able to access the large staircase leading from the lobby of Lisner’s Mainstage down to the same level that the entrance of the downstage is on,” Eisenberg said.

Because carrying patrons is potentially hazardous, he suggested those in charge of student theater companies be given keys to open an overhead door to the building’s loading bay, allowing those in wheelchairs to enter through there.

Eisenberg said the lack of accessibility to the downstage could dissuade those who are handicapped from auditioning “merely because of the lack of an easy way of getting to the downstage for rehearsals and performances.”

Amanda Newman, public relations director for 14th Grade Players, said her group has always been aware of a lack of handicap access at Lisner.

“The lack of accessibility to the space is almost a joke,” Newman said. “It is one of the challenges student theater has had to deal with, and one of the many reasons we are so thrilled with the new theater in West Hall on the Mt. Vernon Campus.”

Sherrard said Friday the cost of the work hasn’t been disclosed.

“Cost estimates for the fa?ade work will not be available until a final project scope is determined,” Sherrard said.

Sherrard said current repair and maintenance work on Lisner’s roof began in October.

“The exterior repairs and preventative maintenance are maintenance the University undertakes as needed to ensure the ongoing functioning of its buildings,” she said.

Amy D’Onofrio contributed to this report

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