Brewster Academy Anderson Hall Is NOT Handicap Friendly.

.Anura Guruge December 2014 thumbnail
by Anura Guruge

Some Related posts:
>> Governor’s Accessibility Award.

Before you get too excited read the whole post. This all happened on Saturday, December 20, 2014. I have been told that there is at least one investigation taking place.

Saturday, December 20, 2014.

Teischan was a Bon-Bon in the Northeastern Ballet’s “Nutcracker” 2014 performance held at Anderson Hall, Brewster Academy, Wolfeboro, New Hampshire. She did two performances at the ‘Oyster River School’ in Durham on December 6 & 7, but we didn’t go to watch those performances. Our druthers is to watch her when she performs in Wolfeboro. This was her third time with Northeastern Ballet in Wolfeboro — the other two performances, however, were at ‘Kingswood Performance Center‘ at the High School.

We take a retired teacher from Alton with us to these ballet performances. She is now disabled and has to use a walker. She can’t get around easily and going to the ballet, twice a year, is a special treat for her. So we got the tickets and assumed that it would all be fine. Actually I ended buying six tickets because we invited two others, both seniors (one of them with Parkinson’s) to join us. 

I had spent a fair amount of time at Anderson Hall on Saturday ahead of the performance because Teischan had rehearsals from noon. Because the rehersals ran late Teischan never made it home that afternoon. I ended up hanging around the foyer, luckily with a magazine, for nearly 90 minutes waiting for her to finish her last rehearsal. Given that I knew I was bringing one person on a walker and the other with mobility issues I scanned the scene to see what they had in terms of ramps etc. Could not see any ramps. Actually I did not see any signage pertaining to disable access. But, I knew that Anderson Hall was brand new so I assumed that it must conform to the latest codes when it came to disable access.

Because the rehersals ran late, and I had to make sure Teischan got some dinner before the show, it kind of screwed up the whole schedule. But, I managed to get back to Anderson Hall with Deanna, Devanee and our disabled friend by 6:45 pm. The other two got their on their own ahead of us. All the parking was taken, including the Handicap parking. Given that Deanna is also classed as disabled I had two valid disable stickers, and two disabled passengers, in the car — but no disable parking. Not a big problem. I was going to drop them off, nip over to Brewster, which I know well, park there and dart back.

1st issue. There was so much ILLEGAL parking, especially around the entrance, that it was not true. But there were NO SIGNS saying, “No Parking“, “Fire Lane” etc. There is a crazy miniature traffic circle by the entrance, with very little space around it. Folks had parked around that. “Sugar Hill Retirement Community“, Wolfeboro — YOU folks should know better than to park your minibus blocking access! Shame on you “Sugar Hill”.

But, we got around that. Deanna and Devanee took our friend in, with the walker, while I went and parked.

I came back. Found that they were already ‘up’ and went to sit with them.

2nd issue. Discovered that handicap access was via a standard elevator. Something in the back of my mind said: ‘Hhmmm. That could be interesting’. But the issue at hand was to get her seated and comfortable.

3rd issue. There appears to be NO special handicap seating with room for walkers, wheelchairs etc. Just rather cramped seats with VERY NARROW aisles on each side. Hardly enough room to maneuver a walker. Nowhere to stow it, folded, other than in the aisle, partially blocking it.

Seating was atrocious! The first 60% to 70% of the main floor is NOT raked (i.e., banked). All the seats are at the same level. So visibility isn’t good. Plus you get more room in economy on a plane than what you get at Anderson Hall. It is cramped, cramped, cramped.

Now that we were seated I had more time to think. “What would happen if we lose power. Do they have enough ‘juice’ to run the elevator to get the disabled folks down?”

We couldn’t see very well. We couldn’t take any decent pictures. At the intermission Deanna and I decided to go try our luck in the small balcony so we could get some pictures of Teischan when she came on stage. We hated to leave our disabled friend downstairs BUT Devanee stayed with her. She was Devanee’s 3rd Grade teacher. So that was good.

Visibility from the balcony is good, though there are some beams that make it kind of claustrophobic and hazardous to your health if you are trying to stand at the back and take pictures.

Show went OK. Now came the finale. We were both waiting, I am standing up at the back of the balcony, cameras poised for the Bon-Bons to appear on the stage for their bow.

The Fire Alarm goes off!

They had dry ice smoke on the stage. That smoke spread fast. It was smokey downstairs. I knew that things were NOT going to be good. We thought it was the dry ice, but couldn’t be sure. I actually think that the dry ice machine got hot and smoked!

We first had to get down. Then we had to get our friend down.

4th issue. The elevator is disabled! I kind of knew that that would be the case.

OK. So we now have to get her down, without the walker, jostling with the others, everbody trying to evacuate the building.

5th issue. They have wrapped Christmas lights on the hand railings on the stairs! You can’t really hold onto the hand railing because of the lights — which were ON. Four people had to help our friend down — part of that because of the Christmas lights on the railings.

PLEASE do not tell me that the Christmas lights on the railings is NOT Brewster’s fault. Remember I was there in the afternoon. I saw them put up those lights. I actually told them that I thought that that was a safety violation. They ignored me.

6th issue. Brewster did NOT have a House Manager in charge of the Hall, or if they did, I never saw him/her and he/she never took the Christmas lights off the railing. HUGE difference from Kingswood. Not only have we been to many performances at Kingswood, this Summer we worked as stagehands there for Great Waters. Kingswood has ‘Norm’. Norm is here, there and everywhere. Norm would NOT have allowed those lights to stay on. So how come Brewster does NOT have a House Manager?

7th issue. Why are the Disabled Parking slots at the opposite end to the entrance! Isn’t disabled parking supposed to be the close to the facility?

Yes, I have heard from a number of people that Anderson Hall is CHEAP. It sure is. But I get a feeling that things will change. You can’t mess around for too long with safety and with the disabled!

Yes, I have made a number of calls. Yes, I spoke to various officials on the night. I was out there for 20 minutes chatting, and then I took one of them of a tour showing how we had to get out. As it happens, prescience being another talent, I had made a phone call at 6pm.

This also got me thinking. I spend many Thursday nights, basically year round, walking through Brewster, while Devanee is at her Clearlakes Chorale practices. I see tons of Brewster students, and they always impress me (even when I see them coming out of dark places behind the Boat House). They are always so polite and proper. But, I can’t remember, ever, seeing any majorly disabled students. Yes, of course, they would not be out and about, as much as the others, but I am thinking, other than those with obvious sports injuries, I can’t recall seeing any students hobbling about. So not sure how geared Brewster is towards the disabled. They are a private school and they can do whatever. That is their right. But, when they rent Anderson Hall out and we have paying members of the public lets make sure we have safety in check and make the necessary allowances for the disabled.

This was our first visit to the new Anderson Hall.

We were not impressed. But that is another issue.

I am so glad Wolfeboro still has Kingswood. Talk about night and day.

P.S., Sugar Hill should be ashamed. Yes, I heard that they had trouble locating two of their residents during the fire alarm. Hhmmm. But, nobody had trouble locating their bus. It was right there blocking everything.

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