How the Schoolhouse Hotel was designed for accessibility

A long-abandoned building in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va., got a new life this spring when the 30-room Schoolhouse Hotel opened its doors. Not only is the Schoolhouse Hotel the city’s first full-service boutique property, it also is fully accessible to those with disabilities. 

Owned and operated by the Disability Opportunity Fund, a nonprofit based in Rockville Centre, N.Y., the former school building began its transformation in 2018, when leaders from the fund were invited to West Virginia. The city had been hit by devastating floods two years earlier, and the region was also dealing with the impact of the ongoing opioid crisis. Right around the same time, the group received a federal grant to do economic redevelopment work. “It all matched up very nicely,” said Charles Hammerman, president and CEO at The Disability Opportunity Fund. 

The team spent the remainder of 2019 buying up downtown space to renovate and lease back to locals. One property of interest was a school that dated back to 1912 but had been closed since the class of 1993 graduated. When town leaders expressed the need for a hotel, all interests began to align. By the end of the year, the city transferred the deed for the building to the fund, and the leadership team started finding ways to make the project match their mission statement. “We searched high and low to make sure that we were going to try to do something that was innovative and never been done before,” Hammerman said. “We wanted to make a fully accessible hotel, but we did not want that to be [its] driving force ... The hotel was really meant to be a rededication of the building back to the community.” 

Adapting for Accessibility 

Turning a schoolhouse into an accessible hotel posed some difficulties (“Trying to carve out an elevator shaft in a 110-year-old building was a challenge,” Hammerman acknowledged), so the Disability Opportunity Fund brought in disability experts to meet with the architects as the project took shape. The teams discussed how to make the hotel convenient for people with limited vision, limited hearing and even people on the autism spectrum. The bar is at the height of a standard dining room table so that people in wheelchairs can sit next to people on barstools, but the space behind the bar is lower than the main floor so that all customers are at eye level with the bartenders. The decor, meanwhile, uses cool colors and limited graphics to make things comfortable for autistic people. Outside the lobby—which is at ground-level for wheelchair accessibility—are dedicated spaces with synthetic grass for service animals.  

Of the hotel’s 30 guestrooms, 28 were developed from old classrooms. The former gymnasium, meanwhile, became an event space, and a building that stood adjacent to the schoolhouse was partially demolished and then connected to the main structure. “We wanted everything to be part of the one building, so we demoed and then rebuilt a restaurant and a bar,” Hammerman said. The team also added a rooftop bar that had not been in the original plans. “Then we also added on the other side of [the ballroom entrance] two new suites that were not connected to the old classrooms.” Each room has a Google Nest unit for hands-free communication with the front desk, and the bathroom doors can be opened by a sensor. 

Dollars and Sense

As the property neared its May 2022 opening, the development team consulted with Travelability, a company that supports accessible travel, to confirm that no other hotel in the world was more accessible than the Schoolhouse. So far, Hammerman said, he has not been able to find anything like it—although he would be happy to learn that there are more properties out there designed for a wide range of guests. “I'll take my title off the mantle and we'll call ourselves the second,” Hammerman said.  

Now that the property is open, Hammerman believes it will serve as a template for future accessible hospitality projects, “once [developers] understand the dollars and the cents of the revenue side.” In fact, he said, “we'll be the first ones to help people design it, discuss it and everything else.”



White Sulphur Springs is a small city in Greenbrier County in the southeastern region of West Virginia with a population of 3,000. The city is most notably home to the Greenbrier Resort and is close to the country’s newest national park, New River Gorge. The hotel is also close to the Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant Greenbrier River Trail.


May 2022





Disability Opportunity Fund


Disability Opportunity Fund


The Disability Opportunity Fund's team interviewed “two or three” hotel operators to oversee the hotel, Hammerman recalled, but found a lack of interest from established firms. “They didn't want it to be fully accessible,” he said. “They were like, ‘That's never going to make money.’” The management companies also wanted smaller rooms to help maximize revenue. “That's all well and good, but that's not what this is all about,” Hammerman said, noting that the rooms needed to be large enough to accommodate wheelchairs, guide dogs and other means of assistance. “This was about bringing the building back to life and giving it back to the community.” The fund operates the hotel itself, he said, and most of the on-site staff live within 7 miles of the property.