Greensboro P.O. struggles with handicapped access

Published 12:00 am Friday, March 11, 2005

Once inside the Greensboro Post Office, patrons who take their time to look around may be impressed with what they see. The rows upon rows of glass P.O. Box windows, the clean stone floor, and high ceilings all reinforce the preserved, old-fashioned feel of the post office, a sharp contrast to the aluminum-and-plexiglass atmosphere of many newer P.O.’s. Too bad many Greensboro residents can’t ever get inside to appreciate it.

Despite (or, rather, because of) its approximately 70 years of service, the post office has never offered access to the handicapped. No wheelchair ramp sidesteps the front steps into the office; no lift or other mechanical device is available.

“Well, for me, with my prosthesis, I can take my time getting up those steps,” says elderly Greensboro resident Adelaide Hearns, who has lost the use of one of her legs. “But the people who use a wheelchair, or who have to use a walker to get around, they just can’t get in.”

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For most public buildings, the Americans with Disabilities Act makes it illegal to operate without handicapped access. But the age and structure of the Greensboro post office means it has been “grandfathered” out of having to fulfill the Disability Act requirements. Any effort to construct a ramp would be prohibitively expensive, says Greensboro postmaster James Gillespie.

“The building is so old, and is built so close to the street,” he says, “it makes it very, very difficult to get anything built.”

During his recent public meeting at the Magnolia Restaurant in Greensboro, Senator Richard Shelby was told about the post office’s “grandfathered” status and asked if anything could be done. Even the Senator had no easy answers to the problem, acknowledging that only real solution might be to build a new post office. For obvious financial and preservationist reasons, this seems unlikely.

Gillespie acknowledged the problem and wanted to assure residents that the city and the post office’s staff would be doing the best they could to play the unfortunate hand they’ve been dealt.

“The city is putting up a handicapped sign for some of the parking spaces,” Gillespie said, a step that officials at Greensboro’s City Hall confirmed would be done by the weekend. “We are willing to do whatever we can to help those with hardship…if residents will honk their horns a couple of times after parking their car, we will come out to assist them.”

Hearns, however, had her doubts as to the efficiency of the post office’s staff’s abilities to help those waiting by their vehicles.

“That’s not feasible,” she said. “I went to the post office the other day and there were 8 to 10 people in line. They couldn’t both [go outside] and work the window. That’s just something to say.”

Hearns also noted (as did the resident who addressed Shelby on the matter) that even those who can make it up the steep front steps still have to deal with not one but two consecutive weighty doors.

“Those doors are real heavy,” she said. “They’re not easy to get open.”

The doors are just one more aspect of the unfortunate current situation. Gillespie expressed some optimism, though, that things may change in the future. He said that a “study” has been commissioned by higher-ups in government to determine if any reasonable hope for building a ramp exists.

“Washington has been calling,” he said.