Monday, May 20, 2024

Somerville’s Armory arts building is a multilevel space served by one elevator. (Photo: Marc Levy)

The Armory building in Somerville has lacked an elevator for two months, which tenants say violates disabilities access requirements and is another example of the city’s inability to manage the building acquired last year through eminent domain.

The elevator was closed May 11 with a posted warning notice from the state that its safety certification had expired, the mechanical room is inaccessible to inspectors and there was no alarm company listed for service.

The elevator is the only one in the building, making the basement and upper floors inaccessible for people with disabilities.

Thomas Galligani, Somerville’s director of economic development and the official tasked with overseeing the building’s transition from private ownership, told tenants in a May 25 email that the city was “still waiting for a new date for the elevator inspection.” With the elevator still closed more than a month later, a city spokesperson said Tuesday that a rescheduled appointment with the state is happening “as quickly as possible.”

The Armory’s elevator has been inaccessible since May 11. (Photo: Parama Chattopadhyay)

Parama Chattopadhyay of Out of the Blue Gallery, a tenant in the Armory building, said she and Steve Asaro, her maintenance operations manager, were stuck in the elevator around six months ago.

The elevator, though, was in good working order at the time of the state’s visit, said the city’s public information officer, Erica Mace, and was taken out of service only because a full inspection couldn’t be done. “The city was not notified of the scheduled inspection in advance and, consequently, no one was present to open the control room for the inspection,” Mace said Wednesday.

To Chattopadhyay, an outspoken advocate for transparency from the city around plans for the Armory and in support of  current tenants – who are able to stay while newly hired arts consultants determine a direction – this is the problem.

“Management’s never there,” Chattopadhyay said. “They’re spending so much time on arts consultants … that people are not actually doing their job.”

No knowledge of janitor

Asaro said that the building is lacking any type of management. Though the city says it has a janitor at the Armory three days a week and that Public Works staff are “frequently on site making repairs, installing building improvements or performing routine maintenance,” neither Asaro nor city councilor at-large Willie Burnley were aware there was anyone cleaning the building except its own tenants.

The out-of-service elevator is more serious, creating “an accessibility issue, which our city has a long way to go to meet our minimum standards there and our moral standards,” Burnley said. Since the building has been taken over through eminent domain, “the city has a legal and a moral responsibility to be the most upstanding landlord that is possible.”

The management of the Armory is the responsibility of the Mayor’s Office, Burnley said, and the relationship between the gallery and Galligani has become antagonistic.

Calling in the police

The Out of the Blue Gallery is a tenant in the Armory building. (Photo: Marc Levy)

Galligani filed two police reports against Out of the Blue Gallery for alleged drinking and noise, which Chattopadhyay called harassment in her own police report against him. Police found no evidence to support the city’s complaints against the gallery.

“There are two police reports on file with the Somerville Police Department that relate to calls made by city staff to the SPD involving incidents at the Somerville Armory,” the city wrote in an emailed statement. “As part of its property management responsibilities, city staff investigate complaints made by tenants, abutters and Armory visitors and report potentially illegal activity to the Somerville Police Department for follow-up.”

Burnley said he cautions the city against “weaponizing the police” in a landlord-tenant relationship.

“I do not think that calling the police on your residents makes them feel secure, to have stability or increases their quality of life,” he said.