An extensive renovation project is bringing new life to the aged building housing American Legion Post 137 in Windber.
The idea for the American Legion Handicap Accessible Project began in 2010 when it was determined that access into the post building on 14th Street was becoming an issue for older and disabled veteran members and those in the community.
The building dates back to 1919 and had remained basically unchanged for more than 30 years.
There were no ramps, lifts or an elevator in the building, and the restrooms were not handicapped equipped or easily accessible. In addition, there was no handicapped parking or wheelchair access from the parking area to the building’s entrances.
“We were doing a membership meeting and learned that a couple members weren’t renewing their memberships because they’re in wheelchairs and couldn’t get into the building,” said Robert Portante, a member of the project team. “That was the motivation for us to fix the problem.”
To help with costs, project members conducted mail campaigns seeking donations. They also held more than two dozen fundraisers.
The renovations were broken into three phases.
The first phase – modifying restrooms by installing a unisex restroom on the first floor – was completed in December 2011.
The second phase called for modifying the building for handicapped entry and exit by installing an elevator.
“We thought we could use the stairwell as the shaft for the elevator, but code wouldn’t allow it, so we had to put a hole in the wall inside the building,” Portante said.
That setback increased the cost of the project, Portante said, and another round of mailings went out.
“We were successful,” he said. “Everyone believes this is a worthwhile project, and having the elevator will increase traffic in the building not only with vets, but with people coming for weddings, reunions or bingo.”
To celebrate completion of the second phase, a ribbon-cutting ceremony was held in conjunction with Memorial Day on May 27 at the post home.
The third phase is now underway and includes modifying exterior parking and sidewalks. The goal is to complete the work by the end of summer.
Once the project is finished, a celebration party will be held at the post home to thank the community for its support.
Donations to help with the final phase are still being accepted. Checks can be made payable to Windber American Legion Post 137 and sent in care of Commander Nick Pascovich, 312 14th St., Windber, Pa. 15963.
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