Downtown Chatham Centre. November 7, 2017. (Photo by Sarah Cowan Blackburn News Chatham-Kent).

CK Councillor Responds To Accessibility Concerns At Downtown Chatham Centre

While the Downtown Chatham Centre fails to meet today’s accessibility codes, it is not actually required to do anything about it.

That’s according to Chatham-Kent Councillor Michael Bondy, who is also a representative of the Chatham-Kent Accessibility Advisory Committee.

In recent weeks, the Downtown Chatham Centre has been criticized by residents about its lack of accessibility now that the mall’s elevator is out of service due to Sears closing.

Bondy explains that accessibility codes are dependent upon when the building was created.

“Accessibility in the Downtown Chatham [Centre] is not up to today’s standards and today’s codes, but it was built 40 years ago and at the time, it would have been built to code. Things that are built today, of course, have different standards regarding accessibility. Things that were built 40 years ago and in many cases, maybe 120 years ago, they’re not to code but were at the time. That does create a gap between what is deemed the right way to go by today’s building standards,” explains Bondy.

Bondy says it is also not the municipality’s responsibility to ensure the building is accessible.

“As far as the Downtown Chatham [Centre] is concerned, it’s private property [and] privately owned, so there is no municipal enforcement of bringing it up to an accessibility code. Obviously it has to maintain fire codes and things of that nature,” he says.

Bondy says many business owners of older buildings often choose to be more accessible simply as an incentive for more people to visit. He adds that when he explained to residents that it is a private business decision for the mall to continue service without an elevator, they seemed more understanding.

“I don’t know if they are any happier about the idea, but they do understand that it’s not something that the municipality can enforce,” says Bondy. “When you explain that if we made every structure in the city up to today’s codes, I don’t know if there would be many buildings left in the city that wouldn’t be drastically affected.”

Bondy says it is next to impossible for every building in the municipality to be up to code.

“Obviously, in this kind of regulated society that we live in, today’s codes are much more stringent and strict that they were even 18 months ago. The codes are changing all the time. There’s no possible way you could ever expect everybody to be up to these codes. That excludes fire and things of that nature obviously, those codes are a little different, but accessibility– it’s really up to the private business owner to make that decision,” explains Bondy.

The Downtown Chatham Centre was recently criticized by a Chatham mother, who could not access the mall’s second-floor washrooms to change her newborn baby’s diaper.

Chatham-Kent Fire and Emergency Services also experienced difficulty reaching the mall’s second floor to respond to a man in cardiac response last month.

-With files from Matt Weverink