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County seeks funding for courthouse elevator; Project is considered one of Chaves’ top priorities

The courthouse wheelchair lift, at left, has been locked for about two years, with county officials saying that the lift presented a possible hazard. The ramp is ADA compliant, county officials say, but they acknowledge that some people find it difficult to use. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record

Chaves County officials are working to obtain funding in 2018 to address what has been a daunting problem for many a visitor to the county courthouse in downtown Roswell.

A man using a cane makes his way up the 22 steps to the Chaves County Courthouse main entrance Wednesday afternoon. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

Either people have to climb 22 steps to reach the main entrance at 400 N. Virginia Ave. or they have to use a serpentine — and what some consider to be steep — ramp to access a southside door to the building.

Those are the only options for the general public wanting to enter the Chaves County Courthouse, which houses the magistrate and New Mexico 5th Judicial District courts, court administrative offices, the District Attorney’s offices, an office of the Chaves County DWI Program and some court-related program offices.

The difficulty with the stairs and the ramp for those experiencing physical challenges is recognized by county officials, who have placed the construction of an elevator compliant with American Disabilities Act requirements as one of their top capital project priorities.

But first the county needs $474,326 for the project.

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“We really do see the need to correct this problem,” said Bill Williams, “and we are working to obtain funding every which way we can. We already have a design and everything. We just need to obtain some funding so we can move forward with it.”

A few minutes spent at the courthouse Wednesday afternoon found a person having to make his way up the steps while using a cane, with the woman accompanying him saying an elevator would be welcomed, and another woman saying the man she was accompanying could barely make it up the ramp the previous time he came to courthouse.

The ramp meets all the ADA requirements for slope, width, landings, railings and ability to navigate, according to Williams.

“By the letter of the law, it is absolutely ADA compliant,” he said. “Does that make it easy to navigate? No.”

Williams acknowledged that the county does receive some calls of complaints.

“As I said, we are trying to come up with funding to resolve that by putting in an elevator, which, of course, will get them right up to that main level of the courthouse,” he said.

Once inside the courthouse, elevators go to all floors of the building.

Williams explained that the county had wanted to install an elevator for access into the building during a 2005 $15 million renovation of the courthouse, which was built in 1911.

But, he said, the state required the construction of the ramp to meet its determination of ADA compliance. Later, the county learned from the U.S. Department of Justice that the elevator would have met the act’s requirements. So part of the complications has been “competing elements” of ADA regulations, he said.

An official complaint was lodged regarding the ramp, Williams said. A settlement with the Department of Justice required the county to make changes to some county-owned buildings and to decrease the slope of the courthouse ramp in a couple of places.

The building does have a wheelchair lift near the ramp, installed about the time of the courthouse renovations, but that does not work properly now, said Williams, and has been locked shut for about two years.

He explained that the top door was able to be opened while the lift was at the bottom, creating the potential hazard of someone falling into the elevator shaft.

County staff can’t work on the lift, he added, unless the county wants to negate the warranty and assume all liability.

The county has listed the elevator project as No. 2 on its Infrastructure Capital Improvement Plan, with continued upgrades of Hobson Road as No. 1. The ICIP plans are required by the state. But Williams predicted slim chances for the county to receive funding from the state legislature in 2018 for the project.

Instead, Williams said, the county probably has a better chance of getting funding in the coming year from a U.S. Housing and Development Community Development Block Grant.

That very well may be one of the projects they are considering, but we first have to hold public hearings. That is a requirement,” said Dora Batista, executive director of the Southeastern New Mexico Economic Development District / Council of Governments.

The organization coordinates CDBG applications for government and nonprofit entities in the southeastern region of the state.

Batista said that people would be able to present their ideas for the federal grant at the hearing, and that the ADA elevator project would have to be voted on by the Chaves County Board of Commissioners as the selected county project for a grant application to go forward for it.

She added that the county’s current CDBG grant for the Tobosa Developmental Services addition must be finished first. That grant is expected to be completed in early February.

Should a grant be received, the county would be required to provide 10 percent of the project funding, she said.

The envisioned elevator would be enclosed within the courthouse building and located near a handicap parking area for the courthouse, which is on the west corner of North Virginia Avenue and East Fourth Streets, Williams said. Preliminary design work has been done to confirm the feasibility of the project.

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 310, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.

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Lisa Dunlap is a general assignment reporter for the Roswell Daily Record.