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County applies for grant for courthouse elevator

Building an elevator at the Chaves County Courthouse at 400 N. Virginia Ave. is a top priority of county officials because the 22 steps and the winding ramp can be difficult to navigate for people with health concerns or mobility difficulties. The county is applying for a federal grant, with the intent of beginning the project later this year. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

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Officials are taking another move toward building an elevator at the downtown Chaves County Courthouse.

Chaves County commissioners voted Monday to approve an application for a federal grant to help pay for the project that county officials hope can be constructed starting this fall or winter.

The county received $246,800 in state appropriations for the elevator in March, although County Manager Stanton Riggs said the funding has not been supplied yet.

“It is going to be an expensive project, amazingly,” said Riggs. “I never knew an elevator would cost so much money. What they are telling us, and we have had a couple architects give us a couple of estimates, it is $500,000 plus.”

Riggs said that elevators themselves are expensive now, but costs also go up in order to meet all the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

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Right now, the only options for the general public wanting to access the courthouse are either to walk up 22 steps to the main door facing North Virginia Avenue, or to use a winding and what many people consider to be a steep ramp up to a door on the south side of the building.

A wheelchair lift installed about 2005, at the time of major renovations to the historic building, has been inoperable for a couple of years.

The county has received numerous complaints over the years about accessibility to the courthouse, and a settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice led the county to alter the slope of the ramp, as well as make changes at some other county buildings.

But county officials recognize that the ramp — although now in compliance with ADA specifications — is far from perfect. At a visit to the courthouse earlier this year, a woman said her son, who was not feeling well during his previous visit to the building, had great difficulty going up the ramp. Another woman complained about the stairs.

“It has been quite an ordeal,” said Riggs. “We didn’t even want to build the ramp, but in order to get the building permit from the state, we had to build the ramp. And the ramp was over $250,000 because it was long and so large in size.”

According to county officials, it was during the 2005 renovations that the county wanted to build an elevator, only to be told by the state that a ramp was required. Because the county couldn’t afford both, it built only the ramp and has been working to find good solutions since.

The grant application will be submitted to the Community Development Block Grant program of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Department.

Although the initial paperwork indicates that the maximum amount of the grant is $750,000, Riggs said that the county hopes the grant will be for at least $400,000.

Public Services Director Bill Williams said in an earlier interview that the elevator would be enclosed within the courthouse building and located near a handicap parking area on the west corner of North Virginia Avenue and East Fourth Streets. Preliminary design work has been completed.

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.