Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland to smooth cobblestone for better accessibility

I happened to visit Trinity College last summer. Lovely place, but those cobblestones can be tricky for everyone so it is wonderful that the college is improving wheelchair access.

Front Square is about to undergo a face lift, improving accessibility for wheelchair users and those with reduced mobility. Smooth stone paths will be set into the existing cobbles, subject to planning permission from Dublin City Council.

The cobbles of Front Square are an iconic part of College. Somewhat surprisingly, however, they only date back to the mid-20th Century. The planning application for Trinity’s Cobble Reduction Programme says, “While it is acknowledged that the existing cobble finish adds a particular character to Front Square, it is noted that they are not of a truly historic character, in that according to current research they were only laid in the past 50 to 60 years.”

Much of the accommodation around Front Square was constructed in the 18th century, as part of the reconstruction of the Great West Front of the College in the 1750s. In 2005 access was improved, with wheelchair ramps added to houses 2,
and 9.

Front Square has been singled out by College’s Cobble Reduction Programme’s project manager, Patrick McDonnell, as having “probably the worst cobbles on the
whole campus. College is obliged to provide universal access under Disability Legislation.”

Dublin City Council objected to the proposed layout as being too disruptive to the character of Front Square. College has been granted conditional planning permission. The layout of the paths was arrived at after four years of consultation with grounds committees and disability access committees.

The most recent proposal sees layout remaining largely the same except for the diagonal paths stretching from the GMB to the 1937 Reading Room and meeting at a central point. The new paths will follow the circumference of Front Square, with an additional straight pathway from the campanile to Front Arch, and one along one side of Fellows’ Square.

At the next Sites and Facilities Committee meeting on 4th November, new drawings will be submitted by the architects Michael Collins and Associates. Dublin Council’s Conservation Architect must also approve any plans, under the conditions of permission.

The type of stone to be used has not yet been proposed, but Mr. McDonnell said it would be a “granite-type cobble, similar to what is currently in place, square in shape but with a smoother surface.”

The catalyst for this project was Part 3 of the Disability Act 2005 which ensures “that an integrated access to public buildings and services is available to people with and without disabilities.”

The question of funding has not yet been resolved, and the project has not gone to tender. The Buildings Office would not give an estimate as the final plans have yet to be approved, and samples must still be agreed.

Sections of the proposed paths are to be laid in the near future, to show how the pathways would interact with the current cobbles’ inset, and to show both the College community and Dublin City Council what the new pathways will look like. One day wheelchair users and high heel wearers alike will successfully navigate College’s most beautiful square - well, the edges of it, anyway.