STEUBENVILLE — Historic Fort Steuben is sporting a fresh look, thanks to grant funding organizers secured to pay for improvements.
Executive Director Judy Bratten said the updates were much needed.
“We wanted to (address) some maintenance issues,” she said Monday. “And we wanted to make the fort more accessible for everybody, especially people in wheelchairs or using walkers or pushing strollers. It really had nothing to do with Christmas, it was more with getting jobs done before winter.”
Christmas at the Fort and the Nutcracker Village are right around the corner, but Bratten points out they have visitors with mobility issues on site year-round.
“We had grants for some of these things and were finally able to get contractors to come in and do the work,” she said.
“One of the big projects in the works for more than two years was replacing those huge windows in the exhibit hall in the Visitor Center. They were more than 20 years old and had lost their vacuum seal — they were steaming up and fogging up. The Visitor Center is part of the Ohio River Scenic Byway and it was designed to give visitors a view of the Ohio River — that’s why we had those big windows and the deck. So, we needed to replace the windows so people would have a good view. We also replaced the back deck, which had deteriorated.”
She said the grant money was a great help in paying for the updates, though they’ve also had to dip into funds they’d “set aside over the years for maintenance projects like this.”
“We also did the walkways, steps and rails in the fort,” she said. “All wooden structures need continued care and replacement. Also, because the building is more than 20 years old, we had to replace three sets of exterior doors — that was a complicated process, but we were able to finally complete that project.”
Bratten said she can’t attach a price tag to the work because the final tallies aren’t in.
“We still don’t know how much the windows are going to cost,” she said. “When they started doing the work they found a lot of rot, the framing for the windows had deteriorated, so there was a lot of carpentry work that had to be done, so we have no idea what the final bill will be. It’s the same thing with the walkway.”
She concedes it’s a big undertaking for a private nonprofit that is dependent on donations, memberships, admissions and grants “to maintain and sustain the buildings and provide the programs we do.”
“All the things that were on our list of jobs needed to be done to make the fort a safe and pleasant place to be and fulfill our mission for history, but also as a scenic site for the Ohio River,” she pointed out.
City Council also is considering legislation that would appropriate $250,000 in federal American Rescue Plan dollars toward construction of restrooms at the Visitor Center.
Fort officials have often cited the need for restrooms to accommodate crowds throughout the year, including those attending summer concerts, Christmas activities and other special events in the park as well as bus and school tours. Their restroom facilities currently can accommodate only two people at a time, so lines are long, they’ve said, and renting heated port-a-jons for the Christmas season alone costs several thousand dollars.
Adding weight to their need was a request by Harmonium Project organizers, who said public restrooms, not just potable units, would help them grow their First Fridays events and schedule other activities.
“That would be a big help,” Bratten said. “Sooner or later, we’re going to have to do it. This is the first-place people come to when they come to town, and the first thing they ask when they come in the door is ‘where’s the restroom?’ We provide that service seven days a week for people coming to Steubenville–especially on Sundays. I think there’s only one restaurant open downtown and no public restrooms anywhere, so people come here because it’s a Visitor Center and they know they can come here and take care of their needs.
“Restrooms would be good for the downtown, not just the fort. It’s something everybody downtown will benefit from, and as a nonprofit serving our community, we want to do our job.”
She said there are a “lot of other projects we have to maintain and things to be improved at the fort and in the park, so it’s a constant — it’s part of what we have to do.”
“It’s like if you have a home, you have to maintain it, fix things when they break, make improvements as your family expands,” Bratten said. “We’ve had a lot of growth during the last 20 or 30 years and we want to meet the needs of the people.
“Back when they first envisioned the fort, Visitor Center and park, I don’t think they had any idea how many things would be going on here,” she added. “They wanted to spark revitalization downtown and it did — now we have all these organizations doing things in the downtown, it’s something to be proud of.”