Tuckerton Restaurant Rebuilds With Improved Disability Access

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LINCROFT, N.J .-- When the Panini Bay Waterfront Restaurant in Tuckerton was damaged by Superstorm Sandy, owner and chef Ivar Johnson had several critical decisions to make. Chief among them was how to maintain wheelchair access for customers with disabilities while elevating the remaining structure and adding additional mitigation features.

When Sandy struck, the first floor was flooded with a foot of water, ruining the floors and walls. Waves 10 to 15 feet high destroyed the windows and damaged the mechanical equipment and duct work built underneath the original floor. The ramp and stairs leading to the restaurant were also severely damaged.

The restaurant’s main floor was elevated onto 9-foot high pylons. A new seating area was built on a raised platform and the kitchen was relocated to the center of the building. A multilevel staircase was added.

But the main feature of the rebuilt Panini Bay is the enclosed wheelchair lift outside the restaurant that transports customers up to the entrance.

Mr. Johnson stands inside the wheelchair lift to demonstrate.Panini Bay Waterfront owner and chef Ivar Johnson demonstrates the wheelchair lift.“Better price,” Johnson said when asked why he decided to go with the wheelchair lift instead of a full elevator. “And it fits the architecture of the building.”

Tuckerton had recently passed an ordinance making its base flood elevation 11 feet, “and at the time, it was an additional 3 feet on top of that,” Johnson said. Though the ordinance forced Johnson to elevate the building, he said it also allowed him to rebuild with better materials and re-do elements, particularly the plumbing, that were built improperly the first time.

The lift cost $25,000. Two people, along with a rider using a wheelchair, can fit inside comfortably. The lift has a seat, a seat belt, and an emergency phone inside. The enclosure cost an additional $12,000 and completely surrounds the lift and its mechanics. It is made out of nearly 40 3x7s and measures 14 feet from top to bottom.

Johnson found the firm that designed the lift through an architect friend. Construction took six months to complete.  A short ramp leads from the ground to the chair lift. The restaurant had a wheelchair ramp before Sandy, but rebuilding it was not feasible given the height of the elevation.

“The lift gets plenty of use,” Johnson said.

Johnson admits the new design is not perfect. However, the new structure and elevation protect the restaurant, which sits on the Tuckerton Inlet, better from wind, salt water and storm surges, and the improved wheelchair access will serve the needs of the new restaurant for many years to come.

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