“I’ve been driving by this building for 45 years or so. I always wondered what was inside. But I could never get in.”
Those words, spoken today by Frank Krotschinsky, director of the Suffolk County Office for People with Disabilities, summed up the importance and the impact of the new addition to the Suffolk County Historical Society.
The addition to the Suffolk County Historical Society museum on West Main Street provides for the first time access to the museum for people of all physical abilities.
Historical society staff and board members, benefactors, elected officials and members of the public gathered at the museum today to celebrate the dedication of the new entrance created by the 923-square-foot addition designed by Stromski Architecture.
The million-dollar project includes an elevator, two handicap-accessible restrooms and a small paved lot with some parking spaces dedicated to vehicles bearing handicap-parking permits.
“This is not just a structure. This actually represents accessibility to the 285,000 residents of Suffolk County that are living with disability that have never been able to enter this building,” historical society executive director Victoria Berger said before the ceremonies got underway.
Krotschinsky recalled going to Riverhead High School for his senior year, after his family moved from Queens to Speonk. The local high schools there in the mid-1970s were not handicap-accessible. Krotschinsky would pass the imposing red brick building on the corner of West Main and Court streets and wonder what it was like inside. The Class of 1976 graduate went on to college and law school and as a lawyer would pass the historical society building and continued to wonder about it, he said. He left private practice to work for the county attorney’s office before moving to the county’s Office for People with Disabilities, which he leads today.
He presented Berger with a proclamation from County Executive Steve Bellone to commemorate the occasion.
The nationally landmarked building, erected in 1930, has more than 25,000 artifacts in its collections.
Suffolk County Historical Society board president Bob Barauskas said the organization considered other options for accessibility, including a ramp. A ramp would have to be too long in order to provide a safe angle for use, he said.
“The ramp would have to start in this back corner, you’d stop for lunch on the west side of the building and by the time you got to the front of the building, it would be closed,” Barauskas said, tongue in cheek.
He recounted the recent improvements to the building, including reconstruction of the front staircase in 2011, the renovation of the Gish Gallery in 2013, installing climate control systems in 2017 and conversion to natural gas in 2018. He called the new addition “the icing on the cake.”
The project was funded with grants from the N.Y. State Council on the Arts, Empire State Development, Robert David Lion Gardiner Foundation, Kenneth J. Tedaldi Foundation, John C. Dunphy Private Foundation, Leo S. Walsh Foundation and the Moore Charitable Foundation.
“This really is truly a gem, a gem now accessible to everybody,” Riverhead Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith said. “We’re proud to have all of Suffolk County come to not only this historical society but to our entire downtown as we begin to revitalize,” she said.
Deputy Supervisor Catherine Kent and council members Jodi Giglio and Tim Hubbard were on hand for the ceremony, as was town historian Georgette Case, County Legislator Tom Cilmi, and John Stype from Legislator Al Krupski’s office.
Berger gave special thanks to the historical society staff for their hard work to make the addition possible and to keep the museum open throughout the construction process, which began last spring.
“On this day, we made our own history by officially opening our doors to all,” Berger said.
The Suffolk County Historical Society, founded in 1886, is a private not-for-profit corporation supported by grants, donations, sponsorships and members. Its mission is to collect, preserve and interpret the ongoing history of Suffolk County and its people, according to the organization’s website. The society operates a history museum, a library and archives, and offers educational programs and events. Its unique collection of artifacts reflects more than three centuries of local history.
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