More buildings now made elder-friendly

Govt fund being used to help upgrade facilities of older developments

A rising number of old-building owners are tapping into a Government fund which subsidises upgrading work to make them more accessible to less mobile visitors.

Launched six years ago, the $40 million Accessibility Fund of the Building and Construction Authority (BCA) initially had a slow take-up with only $2.2 million disbursed by 2010.

Some $8.5 million has now been given out, with another $2.5 million still pending.

The 115 buildings which have been approved for funding as of July are commercial developments, hotels, condominiums and religious buildings.

Recent beneficiaries include the Singapore Chung Hwa Medical Institution, Orchard Parade Hotel and York Hotel.

The Straits Times understands that even Liat Towers will be undergoing renovations that will include handicapped access, though details are yet to be confirmed. Built before 1990, the Orchard Road mall can currently be entered only via steps.

Building managers said that using the fund to upgrade their facilities to serve the less mobile is in their interests.

Available to any private building except landed residential properties, the fund co-pays up to 80 per cent of basic upgrading construction costs, capped at $300,000 per development.

Mr David Chong, secretary of Bukit Timah Plaza's management council, said: "We cannot stop upgrading, especially malls that grow old. We have to change and renew ourselves."

The 30-year-old shopping centre has undergone a minor renovation once every two years for the last decade. It now has toilets for the handicapped, a baby changing room and an entrance ramp.

Older buildings are not required by law to include basic accessibility features because the Accessibility Code, first launched in 1990, is not retroactive.

Upgrading work is carried out voluntarily so building owners must push for any changes.

Site constraints, potential business disruption and lack of consensus between multiple owners of the same building make some owners reluctant to renovate their buildings, the BCA said.

But others, like clan associations, upgrade their buildings to cater to the elderly and preserve their legacy.

The Foo Chow Association, for instance, holds charity functions for the elderly and weddings in its Tyrwhitt Road building. Before BCA funds helped to install a platform lift and ramp this year, helpers had to carry wheelchair users up more than 10 steps from the road.

The Ching Yoon Clan Association upgraded its Ann Siang Hill building as "it was very run down", said its secretary Carlinn Chu. It now has a toilet on the ground floor and wider, shorter stairs.

Mr Patrick Lee, an architecture director whose mother uses a wheelchair, said: "I'd like her to be mobile. The Government should lead in the public area. You don't want to disadvantage them from being able to go out and enjoy whatever we can."