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Need for elevator at county office building debated

by Larry S. Chowning

A proposal to appropriate $210,000 to install an elevator in the Woodward Building in Saluda was debated at a September 4 Middlesex County Board of Supervisors meeting.

The board voted in August to seek an engineering firm to design an elevator for the Woodward Building, which houses many county offices, with an option of assisting with the courthouse basement project. It has been advertised in newspapers that the county is seeking an engineering firm.

Saluda District supervisor Pete Mansfield said at the September 4 meeting that he feels spending that amount of funds on an elevator is not money well spent, when a much less expensive chair-lift could be installed. He also said there is no legal requirement to install an elevator.

County attorney Mike Soberick confirmed that Mansfield was correct. “The county has to provide reasonable accommodations for those with a disability,” said Soberick. “Legally, you do not have to do it, but you will have to decide if you think it is necessary.”

Mansfield made a motion to reconsider accepting bids from engineers to design the elevator. The motion was carried 4-1 with Harmony Village District supervisor Jack Miller dissenting. This motion opened the issue for discussion.

Assistant county administrator Marcia Jones said she and others in the Woodward Building have a policy where, if handicapped persons cannot get to the second floor of the building, staff members go to their cars and accommodate them.

“We might have four or five situations like this in a year,” she said. “We seldom have anyone complain about it.”

“Is it being a good steward of taxpayer dollars to spend that much for something that is not required?” asked Mansfield.

Miller, who recently received a heart transplant and is handicapped, noted that over one-third of the population of Middlesex County is over 65 years of age. “They deserve to get to those offices upstairs.”

Miller told Mansfield, “You don’t know what it is like to be incapacitated, unable to do business, like everyone else can.”

Mansfield said he never has had a handicap, but noted the county already is providing service to the handicapped whether they can get upstairs or not. “If someone can’t get out of their car, then an elevator won’t help them anyway,” he said.

Mansfield made a motion to rescind last month’s motion to find an architect to design the installation of the elevator. He also reminded the board that the proposed $210,000 cost to install the elevator is just an estimate. “It could cost $350,000 when the bids come in,” he said.

Pinetop District supervisor Beth Hurd said she thought it was a requirement to install an elevator and that even if it’s not required now, it could be required at a later date.

Board chairman Wayne Jessie said, “You don’t know when we might have an employee who is handicapped and needs to be on the second floor daily. There is also the matter of pride. You have to be in the situation to understand what it’s like not to be able to function like everyone else.”

At the end of the discussion, Mansfield made a motion to rescind the Request For Proposals (RFP) from engineers for the elevator. The motion was defeated by a 4-1 vote. 

posted 09.19.2012

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