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January 31, 2013

Open, accessible to all: Historic UU church puts wraps on project

GLOUCESTER — One wintry February night three years ago, Joe Randazza rode down Church Street and up to the Universalist Unitarian Church in his wheelchair, ready to attend a Gloucester High Docksiders concert and a Haiti relief fund-raiser, but he met with an obstacle.

A group of four men carried Randazza and his chair up nearly two dozen steps that evening, at that time the only way to bring Randazza into the 206-year-old sanctuary.

That’s when members of the historic church decided the time for change had arrived. And after years of raising money, drawing an appropriation of $30,000 in Community Preservation Act funds and some serious but subtle construction, the historic building now features two lifts, an outdoor ramp, and a bathroom that all meet American Disability Act standards.

Randazza, confined to a wheelchair as a result of brain damage at birth, and Larry Brooks, whose illness placed him in a motorized wheelchair six years ago, celebrated a ribbon cutting at the church Wednesday, with Mayor Carolyn Kirk snipping the red tape and about 30 other community members cheering Kirk on.

“To be able to have Joe and Larry participate in the events here is really what it’s all about as community members,” Kirk said after wielding her oversized celebratory scissors to slice the first red ribbon.

Randazza adjusted the tilt on his chair and backed it into the first floor lift that would carry him to the second floor of the historic church.

“Beep, beep,” Randazza joked as he backed past the new metal door and into the square space.

“I’ve got to learn how to drive one of these days,” Randazza added as an expectant crowd watched him reverse then pull forward, perfecting his entry angle. “This is great, though. It’s the way to do it. (The church) just got it done.”

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