Eagle Scout project helps Stoneham Historical Society and the handicapped

Christopher Burns along with Stoneham Historical Society members are holding a plan of the proposed handicapped-accessible ramp for the Society’s William Street headquarters.

The Stoneham's Historical Society gets excited about pretty much anything from days-long-gone, but when it comes to its William Street headquarters in the center of town, the organization would welcome a touch of modernity.

So when local teen Christopher Burns approached the all-volunteer board a few months ago with an ambitious pitch to personally build a handicapped-accessible ramp onto the side of the local historical society's main hall and museum, his proposal was met with quite a bit of enthusiasm.

"We were absolutely speechless with his desire to finally have our historic building become handicapped accessible," said local Historical Society President Donna Weiss. "Naturally, the group voted unanimously to give him the green light to move ahead."

"The Stoneham Historical Society is an all-volunteer organization founded in 1922. Currently, there is no easy way for a physically challenged visitor to enter the building and enjoy all the Historical Society has to offer," the local teen added.

Burns, a junior at Stoneham High School (SHS), is planning the community service project as he attempts to achieve the exclusive company of local Boy Scouts of America (BSA) members to achieve the rank of Eagle Scout, the youth organization’s highest honor.

Quite a few challenges stand in the teen's way, not the least of which is the necessity that the building project fully comply with the state's building code and federal American Disabilities Act (ADA) regulations.

Needing quite a bit of manpower, the project will require use of an excavator to demolish the existing concrete stairwell in the front of the William Street building, as well as a dumpster rental, the acquisition of building materials and supplies, and access to a cement mixer.

However, in videos posted to social media sites in which he details his reasons for selecting the Stoneham Historical Society site, Burns remains undaunted by all but one obstacle: The financial burden associated with constructing a multi-level ramp with an adequate turnaround landing.

In total, according to estimates prepared for the project, the major facility upgrade will cost $5,270.

"We're standing here at the Historical Society in Stoneham. There's a lot of history here," says the Boy Scout in one such presentation, where he roams around a steep concrete stairway into the museum, which was first constructed in 1903 as a gathering space for Spanish-American War veterans.

"It's going to be a 40-foot ramp with 11.5 feet of landing to turn around. As you can see, there hasn't been much handicapped access via the staircase. It's come to my attention that it's going to be fairly expensive, so I really need your help. Any donation I could get would be very much appreciated."

A member of Stoneham's BSA Troop 513, Burns has been a scout since he was in the first grade. Already, thanks to a "Go Fund Me" page established to help defray the construction project costs, a number of donors have jumped at the chance to help the Stoneham High School pupil. As of The Middlesex East's press deadline, some 49 people had contributed $1,935 to the effort through the internet site. The link to that online fundraiser is https://www.gofundme.com/chris-burns039-eagle-scout-project.

Stoneham Historical Society members are also trying to help out the cause by accepting donations on the aspiring Eagle Scout's behalf.

"[Chris] must recruit volunteers to help and ultimately be responsible for every aspect of the plan. He is being proactive in soliciting funds to underwrite this project by organizing many group presentations at local churches and other nonprofit groups, soliciting donations of materials from local vendors and setting up a Gofundme page," noted the Historical Society membership in a recent statement sent to supporters.

"Please consider helping this dedicated and motivated young man to achieve his goal to “ramp up” support for a worthy cause that will benefit the community for years to come. Checks in any amount may be mailed to SHSM, 36 William St., Stoneham, MA 02180 and will be acknowledged in writing as all donations are tax deductable per current tax laws," the notice to supporters furthered.

Founded in 1910, the Boy Scouts of America— which earlier this year opened its membership to girls — is one of the largest youth organizations in the United States, with the nonprofit estimating that 2.4 million youths aged between 11 and 18 count themselves as members.

Commonly associated with camping and outdoor activities, the Boy Scouts mission is to teach youths about responsible citizenship, self-reliance, and the importance of developing an honest character.

The Eagle Scout Award is the highest rank in scouting. It represents a commitment to citizenship, leadership, service, physical fitness, and outdoorsmanship.

Should he complete the project and achieve the rarely-achieved rank of Eagle Scout, Burns would be amongst 93 other former Troop 513 members to earn the distinction over the past century.

The first recorded Eagle Scout from the youth organization in Stoneham was Sumner Richard Thompson in 1928. More recently, four members of Troop 513, including Burns' relative Jonathan Charles Burns, accomplished the milestone in 2017.

Not to be confused with Stoneham's Historical Commission, which is a government body appointed by the Board of Selectmen, the local historical society maintains a museum and library at its Central Street headquarters.

Burns project involves the main Spanish War hall on Central Street, but there is also a second structure located on the parcel, which is situated nearby the town's historic Old Burying Ground.

That second building, appropriately dubbed the "Ten Footer", is a 10-by-10 foot structure where shoemakers once worked on their trade prior to large-scale industrialization.

It serves as a reminder of Stoneham's historic shoe making industry which earned it the nickname of "Shoe Town".

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